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Will there now be only one full-time Lotus-powered car in the IZOD IndyCar Series throughout the balance of the 2012 season? It's sure looking that way.
Lotus Cars gave Dreyer & Reinbold and Bryan Herta Autosport a way out at the end of April; the former has already got its engine deal in place having aligned with Panther Racing, a Chevrolet stalwart that had two engine leases in its pocket. Bryan Herta Autosoprt hasn't announced its intentions but is expected to take a Honda engine lease before practice opens on Saturday for the 96th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And now Jay Penske and his two-car Marina del Rey-located Dragon Racing have filed suit in Los Angeles against Lotus Cars, alleging "contractual fraud."
Some of the allegations include Lotus' inability to deliver two DW12 Dallara chassis to the team as promised, forcing Dragon Racing to shell out approximately $400,000 each for the chassis used by Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge.
Further difficulties started before the first race of the year at St Petersburg, when Lotus didn't release an engine for use in Bourdais' car (this despite his gorgeous black and gold JPS livery) until the evening before practice began. There were not sufficient engines to run the open test at Indianapolis or Monday's open test at Texas Motor Speedway.
As Lotus Cars went through the financial difficulties of changing ownership it became apparent the funding for INDYCAR projects simply wasn't there. Engines weren't being built in proper sequence and Lotus was asking for money that was not appropriately stated in contracts, Dragon Racing said. The team made payments to the supplier in order to get its engine supply difficulties remedied but the promises of payments to Dragon Racing by Lotus Cars were never fulfilled.
Although INDYCAR has a new rule denying engine lease changes in-season without permission from the sanctioning body, this would seem to be the type of extraordinary circumstances that would allow the series to sign off on a change of powerplants. If INDYCAR were to deny Dragon's request to change engine suppliers, there will be fewer than the vaunted 33 cars on the grid for the Indy 500, centerpiece of the series.
Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais has been the brightest star of the former five Lotus-powered cars, earning ninth place in the second race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park after running in the vaunted top-10 throughout much of the season opener, until he experienced electronics difficulties that have plagued all the Lotus teams.
If Dragon Racing is allowed to leave Lotus, it's expected Chevrolet might pick up the slack, due to Penske's father's alliance with Ilmor Ltd, who designed and built the Chevy engine. Roger Penske did tell SPEED.com that he's not privy to negotiations but that they are ongoing.
Dragon's departure from Lotus would leave only HVM and its Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro carrying the Lotus flag through the season, although it's possible the manufacturer might have two cars at Indy with Jean Alesi running for Fan Force United, a Firestone Indy Lights team headed by former Indy car driver Tyce Carlson and Chris Williams. Alesi is expected to be at Rookie Orientation Program on Thursday.
The Dragon Racing lawsuit states its case succinctly: "Put simply, Dragon has had enough of Lotus' deceit and wrongdoing. Dragon has put an end to its ill-fated relationship with Lotus and now seeks recompense for the damages inflicted upon it."