This year’s Indianapolis 500 could have its smallest field in 65 years, with Newman/Haas Racing announcing that it would withdraw its one-off entry to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month.
The news puts Former F1 driver Jean Alesi’s oval-racing debut hopes in major doubt, for it was he who had confirmed that he would be driving with the famous team in a deal backed by Lotus. But here’s where the plot thickens…
Brian Lisles, the team’s general manager, broke the news to the Associated Press on Friday, confirming that the team had neither the time nor resources to put together a package for the 500-mile race.
“We had every intention of being in the race, but simply ran out of time,” he is quoted as saying. “We withdrew when it became apparent we could not do it properly.”
Despite Alesi’s confirmation that he would be driving for the multiple championship-winning team, Newman/Haas never actually confirmed that deal.
This was supported by the team submitting its entry to the IndyCar Series officials with no nominated driver specified, despite it being some two weeks after Alesi’s own announcement.
“We never announced an official entry,” Lisles added, referring to the rumoured Alesi deal.
The team was set to pair up with Lotus as its engine supplier, but the carmaker has struggled to provide both sufficient and competitive engines to its small base of teams in its first year of IndyCar competition, and earlier this week it embarrassingly agreed to release two teams to secure engine deals with rival suppliers.
Newman/Haas’ withdrawal means that, unless Lotus can bankroll an alternative seat for Alesi – most likely to be HVM Racing – that it will power just three cars in the entire field for the Indianapolis 500. The current entry list has now been trimmed to 33 entries.
With the grid capped at 33 cars, the news is ironically good new for Lotus, which is now effectively guaranteed to have all of its cars on the grid in next month’s race. Many had feared that the team’s lack of in-season testing and the uncompetitiveness of its package would have put its drivers at risk of non-qualification.
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