Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Lola's Aborted Entry Into The IRL

Indycoolest on a Trackforum thread gives a pretty good history, with quotes, of how Lola got screwed out of entering the IRL as a chassis builder. He is smacking down Jim Wilke in the process which is always good.


The fact that CART was exploring the concept of a "common" normally-aspirated engine formula at the time in an effort to facilitate a merger with the IRL has no bearing on the chassis formula. It would be a relatively simple matter to adapt any such engine to existing Champcar chassis; there was no need (or sense) in using IRL chassis. So, this "reason" for the IRL turning down Penske and Lola's application doesn't wash.

How about a link verifying Dome's submission of an application to supply a 2003-2005 spec chassis to the IRL?

The IRL wasn't concerned about Penske's ability to service and support its chassis -- Barnhart specifically said it -- so why was this a concern with regard to Lola? Both the Elan Group (aka Panoz G Force) and Dallara supplied chassis to other racing series in 2002, so why wasn't this a concern for them as well?

Barnhart stated that: "Factors the league is considering in applicants [to supply chassis] include experience with the Indy Racing League, financial stability, production capacity, technical support ability and plans for use of the chassis in other racing formats."

In turning down Penske's and Lola's applications, not one of these factors was cited. The league chose instead the untried start-up company, MK Racing, which had NO experience in supplying anything to the Indy Racing League (Ken Anderson had no more experience in this regard than dozens of other designers, including several at Penske and Lola), shaky financial stability (it went bankrupt), NO production capacity (it never delivered a Falcon capable of running under its own power), ZERO technical support ability (Falcon's first employees were mostly family and friends), BUT it had no stated intention of supplying chassis to CART.

The importance of the last factor was made apparent in the league's acceptance announcement of MK Racing: "Now, MK Racing has made the same commitment that Dallara and G Force did in 1996, and our competitors and fans will benefit from the competition of these three manufacturers." Exactly what was that commitment? Certainly not supplying chassis to other series. Dallara supplied chassis to Formula 3 and the Nissan World Series among other open wheel series in 2002 and Panoz is the self-proclaimed "largest manufacturer of racing cars in the world." Perhaps it was only the commitment NOT to supply CART?

In turning down Penske's application, Barnhart stated: "The league acknowledges the high level of product and excellent customer service that Penske Cars has provided in other series, but we have decided we will not consider its application further."

You say, once again: "Lola took that [i.e. question about supplying other series] to mean choose one or the other and withdrew their application to the IRL." Link please. Lola no more withdrew its application than Penske did. Reynard filed for bankruptcy on March 29, 2002. The IRL rejected Penske's application on April 23, 2002. But Lola thought it was still in the running until the IRL announcement of approved chassis manufacturers on May 25, 2002.

Lola issued a statement in response to the IRL rejection on May 31, 2002: "Lola was unable to come to a mutually acceptable agreement with the Indy Racing League regarding 2003-2005 chassis construction within their time deadline. As you might expect, we had gone a long way toward construction, committing nearly $1 million in design and development and were on the road to producing another Lola oval winner.

"Ben Bowlby and his design team produced an excellent car, one which had superb figures in wind tunnel testing. Based on that, Lola had verbal commitments in hand from several teams for our new Indy Racing chassis.

Given the likely implications of this loss of business...."

In other words, Lola was still negotiating when "their [IRL] time deadline" expired, it cost them $1 million, and it resulted in an unanticipated "loss of business." None of these are indicative of a company which withdrew its application, as you insist on repeating.

Additionally, the "several [IRL] teams" who verbally committed to buy the Lola chassis weren't questioning if Lola would "not follow through with needed support? No updates, no spares or tech folks at the track because everybody was at a CART race?"

All of which still begs the question of why the IRL chose to reject Lola's genuine application in favor of a vaporware enterprise cobbled together at the last minute?

I've talked with Lola representatives at races who indicate that they believe it was because, as you say, "Lola took [the IRL] to mean choose one [series] or the other." Why can't they state definitively, one way or the other, what the IRL's intentions were? Because nobody but the IRL knows for certain what they were. Penske, for example, was told: "The Indy Racing League is moving forward in its selection of approved chassis suppliers [without Penske] based upon what it believes is in the best interests of the league and its participants," Barnhart said.