“Carl (Haas) called me and said ‘How would you like to start an open wheel racing team?’ I said ‘Not a chance in hell, Carl.’ He said ‘What if Mario (Andretti) was driving?’ I said ‘Where would you like to meet?’”
Those were the words of Paul Newman when described how Carl Haas convinced him to start Newman Haas Racing. In 1983, their operation came to fruition, with Andretti their driver of course, and, after a mere six races, they captured their initial victory. Thus a 29-year run of dominance was launched, and one that will stand up against anyone’s. They won more than 100 races (107 to be exact) and eight championships in CART, Champ Car, and INDYCAR, illustrating themselves as a gold standard by which all others teams, including the great Team Penske, would be measured.
What’s more, the drivers they fielded represent an all-star list of open wheel talent. Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, Christiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira, Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, and James Hinchcliffe all piloted Newman/Haas entries in their careers, with Servia and Hinchcliffe taking the driving duties for 2011.
Beyond the statistics, which speak loudly enough, they also provided their share of pivotal moments for sport, none possibly greater than their signing of Mansell in 1993. Many will tell you that American Open Wheel Racing peaked that year, with the British driver coming off a 1992 World Championship for the Williams team. The signing of a world champion the season immediately following his triumph (remember that Formula had been considered superior before then) made it obvious that IndyCar Racing had matched Formula 1 in the world scale, a revelation that sent shock waves through the racing community.
They began to struggle after the INDYCAR/Champ Car merger in 2008. Though they continued to field two cars, funding issues caused several driver changes. Justin Wilson was dropped after that ’08 season in favor of Robert Doornbos, who brought money into the team. They also tested Milka Duno prior to the 2009 season, but eventually decided not to field a car for her.
When Doornbos’ funding ran dry, Servia and Alex Lloyd were brought in to finish out the season. Graham Rahal was the next to feel the burn of the team’s financial problems, as his ride went belly-up after McDonalds pulled their sponsorship. Hideki Mutoh contested a full 2010 campaign (with support from Honda) while Rahal was left a part-time program after sponsorship was found later in the season.
Sadly, after a 2011 season that saw a major upswing in performance (Servia finished fourth in the standings while Hinchcliffe was the Sunoco Rookie of the Year), Newman/Haas will not be able to answer the bell in 2012. Many of the drivers have expressed sympathies via their twitter pages. “Hate seeing my good friends @NewmanHaas won’t be racing next year,” said Rahal. “I loved those guys, fantastic group. Can’t believe we won’t be seeing them.”
The success they enjoyed in 2011 hopefully showed the paddock how strong the 30+ employees of Newman/Haas were, allowing them to quickly regain their footing in the sport. The same goes for drivers Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe, with both now on the market for new teams.
No one enjoys news of a team closing its doors. But, that news is especially tough when said team was the caliber of Newman/Haas. There remains a possibility that the operation will resurface, something we all hope is true. But, for now, one of racing’s all-time great teams won’t be around in 2012.