Look out Chevrolet and Honda. Audi might soon become the new kid on the block—and the neighborhood bully.
While the addition of a new engine manufacturer has the potential to significantly muscle-up the IndyCar Series’ global marketing efforts, it also has some team owners and series suppliers worried the move could trigger an engine arms race and price some suppliers, teams and drivers right out of the paddock.
This week, honchos for Audi said they’re seriously looking at joining the series as an engine supplier. Lotus dropped out after a pathetic showing last season, leaving Chevy and Honda as the only suppliers for the open-wheel series.
It’s a complete reversal from Audi’s stance in 2010, when then-IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard tried to recruit the Bavaria-based company as a supplier of the series’ revamped engine, which debuted in 2012.
So what changed? It’s possible that Audi simply wants to increase U.S. sales and sees a strong IndyCar presence as the best way to do it.
Whatever the reason, new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has to be encouraged. It’s likely that Audi’s interest will be seen as an endorsement for the series and the changes Miles has in mind.
This much is certain. The addition of the German carmaker would give IndyCar an important European presence and raise its international profile. And unlike Lotus, Audi isn’t likely to fall flat.
Audi has deep pockets and is competitive in all its racing efforts. It has dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in recent years and also won the 2012 World Endurance Championship.
Just as important as its on-track prowess, Audi has been known to spend tens of millions of dollars to market its teams and the series it races in.
Wolfgang Durheimer, Audi’s boss of technical development and the company’s motorsports initiatives, told reporters this week that the company is considering three North American racing options, including the IndyCar Series.
“Another opportunity would be IndyCar, which I think is still very popular and the Indy 500 is an outstanding race,” Durheimer told reporters.
The other two initiatives are Daytona Prototypes and DTM America; Durheimer said the company could take on two of the three.
Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO and interim IndyCar Series CEO, reached out to Audi officials Monday to say the German firm would be welcome. He added that it would be challenging for Audi to get up to speed with Chevy and Honda right away.
While there’s little concern Audi would drag the series down the way Lotus did with its underpowered engine, some feel the free-spending Audi could escalate the cost of IndyCar racing. That’s a serious concern for IndyCar officials. Series officials have worked hard at cost containment and most teams make little or no profit.
“We’d be concerned about a manufacturer coming in and spending more than is justified than the business model outlined by the series,” Chevrolet Racing boss Mark Kent told Speed.com this week. “I would hope that, as we’ve seen in the past few years, IndyCar would put an emphasis on this to avoid runaway spending. As manufacturers, I’m sure we can sit down and make sure no one upsets the chemistry in such a way that everybody wants to get out of the series.”
Honda officials appear to be licking their chops at the prospect of an IndyCar matchup against the formidable German foe.
“We always want to prove ourselves against the best in any category, and Audi fits that bill,” Honda’s racing manager, T.E. McHale, told Speed.com.