Of the three automakers providing engines for the 2012 Izod IndyCar Series season, Chevrolet and Honda have been the most public. Most everyone has either known or been able to speculate who would sign on with them from the very start and their progress has been relatively visible.
Lotus, the third automaker in the picture, has been decidedly quiet by comparison. As teams started signing with Honda and Chevrolet, many began to worry about the stability of Lotus’ operation. Was everything under control with the John Judd led effort? Would they able to field enough engines? Would they even answer the bell? (Through the summer and into the Fall, many worried that the Lotus deal would fold).
However within the last month, a handful of interesting revelations about Lotus’ foray into INDYCAR have come into the light. First, and most obviously, they have finally signed a handful of teams under their umbrella. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, HVM Racing, and Bryan Herta Autosport have joined Michael Shank’s MSR Indy fleet in the Lotus camp, with Lotus effectively partnering up with the squads in a factory-esque relationship. “These partnerships with Bryan Herta Autosport, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and HVM Racing mean a great deal to Lotus Motorsport and mark the start of a new chapter for Lotus in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” said Miodrag Kotur, Group Lotus Director of Motorsports, in a release earlier this month. “We're thrilled that these already successful and illustrious teams have chosen Lotus, as we believe that our capabilities as a partner will pay dividends for them in the future. These three teams have immediately become part of the Lotus legend and have joined us in our journey as one of the most innovative and successful sports and racing car brands in the world."
He also asserted Lotus’ chances of excelling in its first year. “Exactly 12 months on, we are here with an all new Lotus engine and three teams, ready to go. The numbers that the engine is already achieving in our dyno testing are extremely encouraging, so our hard work is well and truly paying off.”
Perhaps the more interesting aspect, though, is the size of the engine. The minimum weight for each power plant is 100 kilograms, or 212 pounds. Lotus has reportedly come in well under that mark, some saying by more than 40 pounds. While they will have to meet those requirements, coming in under-weight could be a strategic advantage. In adding ballast to meet the minimum, they could lower the center of gravity by placing the extra mass at the bottom of the engine, as designer John Judd explained to SPEED’s Marshall Pruett.
Kotur even admitted as much in the aforementioned release. “We have also managed to produce a very light power plant, in the true spirit of Lotus. However, we are keen to test the package on track and look forward to our first test in early January, slightly later than originally planned but designed to give us more time to fine-tune our package before taking to the track."
We all know adjusting the center of mass for a car will have a great effect on its handling, making it either understeer or oversteer depending on the balance. Similarly, it stands within reason to believe altering an engine’s center of mass will also change a car’s handling characteristics.
Utilizing the luxury of adding weight ballast can be quite murky. If you get it exactly right, it could prove a major advantage in terms of setup and speed. But, if you get it wrong, getting the balance back could be all but impossible, with the only solution a complete redesign.
The complexities behind this issue of weight run very deep and we likely won’t see any answers until the Lotus cars hit the track. But, Robbie Buhl, co-owner of Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, is confident that the engineering background of the British carmaker will help provide the tools they need. “…They are an engineering company,” said Buhl. “And to tap into the resources of what they already have in place and kind of on the payroll there, we are hoping that that really provides us some additional engineering support as we continue, as Dennis said, as we kind of are rebranding ourselves Team Lotus, DRR and really kind of going under a different initiative here of really strengthening our engineering department and kind of building out from the technical and engineering side of our company, and then complementing it with just a good operations department and commercial department.”
Further announcements regarding Lotus’ program, including testing dates and additional teams, are forthcoming.