Group Lotus Plc is considering leaving the IndyCar Series as an engine supplier at the end of this season—its first as a part of a five-year deal it signed last year to supply turbo engines to IndyCar teams.
Lotus' IndyCar project manager, Olivier Picquenot, said, “we are still committed to the end of the season,” but admitted the company’s plans after this year are unclear.
“Our owners will study every department at the end of the year,” Picquenot said Thursday. “It’s very difficult to say if they will be committed for the next four years.”
The IndyCar season only has four races remaining, concluding Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Lotus and IndyCar officials had no comment on how the contract might be settled if the engine maker decides to bolt the series.
The agreement was much celebrated by IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard last year when Lotus, along with Chevrolet, joined the series to compete with Honda as the open-wheel series unveiled its new turbo engine formula. This season marks the first in seven years that the open-wheel series has had more than one engine supplier.
Bernard initially announced that Lotus, Honda and Chevy would each supply engines for one-third of the field. He backed off that statement early this year when it became clear Lotus’ engine-development program was significantly behind Honda's and Chevy's.
The John Judd-built Lotus engine was a late arrival to the IndyCar field last winter and faced further obstacles when the Malaysian-owned, British-based sports car manufacturer was sold, which resulted in a freeze on its accounts and strained relations with Lotus’ partner teams in IndyCar.
In April, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport broke off relationships with Lotus to pursue faster, more competitive engines and because Lotus was having difficulty meeting supply demands.
By the time May rolled around, HVM Racing’s entry, piloted by Simona de Silvestro, was Lotus’ sole IndyCar entry apart from Jean Alesi’s Indianapolis 500-only run. Both Lotus-powered cars were quickly black-flagged on race day at Indianapolis because they were dramatically slower than the other cars. De Silvestro has regularly been at the back of the field in subsequent races despite a series-approved upgrade to the Lotus V6 earlier this month.
If Lotus, which is owned by DRB-Hicom, does decide to end its program, it would have to negotiate an exit from its contract with IndyCar. Series officials said they have not had conversations with Lotus about the company’s future.
Lotus’ decision on whether or not to stay in the series beyond this season could be based on how much improvement it is able to make before the end of the season and how much ground it can make up on Honda and Chevy, Picquenot said.