It’s no secret that 2011 did not go the way Dreyer and Reinbold Racing wanted. Even before Justin Wilson’s season-ending back injury at Mid-Ohio, this was a team that simply did not live up to the expectations that they were perhaps ready to make the jump to the next tier of INDYCAR teams. Despite a race shop expansion, solid sponsor investment, and a veteran driving presence in Wilson, the team’s results generally put them more in the mid-pack range than up front.
With the announcement Monday that team manager Larry Curry and his son Matt (Justin Wilson’s race engineer) had parted ways with the team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing appear to already be making changes as they look ahead to 2012. Based on how things went for them in 2011, change is exactly what’s needed.
DRR has a lot of positives in its corner. It’s one of the longest-running teams in INDYCAR, does a nice job with fan outreach, and they generally do well in keeping the sidepods occupied with a number of solid sponsorship partners. However, this is also a time where DRR finds itself in a state of flux. Their engine manufacturer for 2012 has yet to be named, and their driver lineup for 2012 is anything but assured.
In regards to which engine will be powering DRR’s new DW-12 cars for next season, the rumor has been that the team will be going with Lotus. This has been as much of a numbers game as anything else, with Chevy and Honda looking at or near capacity in the number of entries they’ve signed going into next year. However, until we hear something official on an engine announcement from DRR (which should be relatively soon), it’s another part of the equation not yet filled in.
As their engine contract for 2012 remains unsigned, so do their two primary drivers from 2011. Perhaps no driver has been linked to as many different programs in the opening days of the 2012 “silly season” as Justin Wilson. He’s been rumored as a driver not only at DRR, but Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and several other teams as well. He’s one of the veteran drivers most in demand for a program looking to test and shakedown the new car. Whether or not he stays at DRR, as well as who ends up doing the engineering, will play a massive role in the team’s early success or failure.
The future of Ana Beatriz is also currently in question. In her first full rookie season, the Brazilian driver mirrored DRR’s struggles, as the #24 Ipiranga-sponsored machine failed to crack the Top 10 all season long. Although team co-owner Robbie Buhl has stated he’d like to see her back with the team, he’s also admitted DRR is currently speaking with many drivers. Right now, it has to be rated as a toss-up whether or not she’ll return with the team for a sophomore outing.
With an engine manufacturer announcement expected from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing fairly soon, we can expect DRR’s 2012 plans to gain a more definitive form in the next few weeks and months to come. The engine program, team leadership, and driver roster for the new season will be the three big components to watch as they work to get back on track. For a team that looked to be behind the curve at various points in the 2011 season, getting ahead of it in 2012 will be of the utmost importance.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.