Uncertainty Abounds At Newman/Haas

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What was once an open-wheel dynasty has devolved into a mere afterthought in the minds of most fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Newman/Haas Racing has fallen into obscurity over the past few seasons, since they were the most successful transition team to come over from Champ car in 2008. Their rapid descent reached a new low in 2010; as their lone driver, Hideki Mutoh, finished lower in the points (eighteenth) than any other veteran driver that started every race.

This was just two seasons removed from 2008, when they won two races with drivers Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson. Many observers will say that their fall from grace coincided with the death of co-owner Paul Newman in late September of 2008. While I believe that is a contributing factor, I think it runs deeper than that. I’m not sure how much direct input Paul Newman had on the day to day running of the team. Although Newman was a racing enthusiast and did much more than lend his famous name to a team he invested in, his co-owner Carl Haas was much more heavily involved in the day to day running of the team. Carl Haas has been in reported poor health for some time. For three years, Mike Lanigan was a partner in the team, until his abrupt departure in May of 2010.

In all honesty, I’m not exactly sure who is currently running Newman/Haas Racing right now. I’m hoping that there is someone with their ear much closer to the ground on such things will set me straight, but a quick glance at their website would lead you to believe that Carl Haas is very much in charge. I continue to hear bits and pieces to indicate otherwise, so it begs the question – who’s minding the store?

Some reports had this team shutting down completely after the end of last season, but in October – it was announced that they had hired Phoenicia Sport and Entertainment to assist them in their outreach for new partners. That certainly gives every indication that they are committed to going forward.

This once-proud team was on or near the level with Team Penske for the better part of twenty years. Newman/Haas won the CART championship with Mario Andretti in 1984, Michael Andretti in 1992 and Nigel Mansell the following year. Against admittedly weaker competition, five of the last six championships in CART/Champ Car were won by Newman/Haas.

This is why it is so disturbing to see this team function as a shell of its former self. The rise and fall of this great team should serve as a warning to other great teams that a succession plan always needs to be put into place. Team Penske is set up to where Tim Cindric will eventually take over whenever time finally catches up to Roger Penske. The Captain shows no signs of slowing down, despite the fact that he will turn seventy-four next month. Still, he is wise enough to know that he won’t be around forever. If he wants his race team to carry on after he is gone, he knew he had to start grooming a younger successor. Chip Ganassi is only fifty-two (my age), but it may behoove him to start searching for someone to groom not knowing what the next twenty years might hold.

Although many of the main dominos have already fallen into place for the 2011 season, Newman/Haas has been relatively quiet. It’s fairly apparent that Hideki Mutoh will not be back with the team. They made some noise a few weeks ago when they tested Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe at Sebring. It sounded like a good fit – a savvy veteran like Servia, mentoring a promising rookie in Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe was interviewed on Trackside with Cavin & Kevin shortly afterwards and sounded very excited about the possibility. Since then, things have gone very quiet at Newman/Haas.

I’ve taken heat in the past for my support of Oriol Servia. Many believe him to be nothing more than an overrated journeyman driver. I disagree. I think he is a talented driver who can get the most out of a slow car. If he’s ever given a good car, he is capable of winning – as he did in Montreal in 2005. If Newman/Haas could come up with solid funding for two cars in 2011, I think this pairing could lead to a resurgence of this legendary organization.

The team has suffered from sponsorship woes since Newman’s death. The McDonald’s sponsorship was rumored to be lacking. In 2009, Robert Doornbos started carrying McDonald’s livery although there wasn’t anymore funding coming from the fast-food conglomerate. Prior to that the second car at Newman/Haas had been carrying token livery for Paul Newman’s “Hole In the Wall” camps.

Gone are the days when K-Mart and Texaco poured giant sums of money into this team. With Newman gone and Carl Haas in declining health, there is an apparent void in the search for sponsorship. Hopefully, the connection with Phoenicia can make some new long-term sponsor relationships materialize. That’s what it will take for them tio mount a comeback. If nothing happens soon on the sponsorship front, we may be witnessing the end of a run that has lasted almost thirty years. I hope that doesn’t happen.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Uncertainty Abounds At Newman/Haas”

  1. Last year was tough to watch for Newman-Haas. I’d love for them to run Servia and Hinch, but I understand if the sponsorship isn’t there for two drivers.

    Honestly, I’d just like to see them do whatever it takes to survive with any amount of dignity this year (outside of hiring Milka) and focus on getting their sponsorship situation in a better place.

  2. I think the Sebring test line up is a dream scenario for the team, a young personable and marketable talent like Hinchcliffe paired with a seasoned veteran like Servia to mentor him. I can’t imagine how much “Heat” would ever be involved supporting a guy like Servia. He is one of the few drivers around who makes his TEAM better and offers very little bravado or drama in the process.

    The Sebring test was all about showing Hincliffe’s potential Canadian sponsors “This is what it could be like” a preview for what their dollars could support. Like a number of remaining teams, NHR is probably just waiting for the Jury to come back with a verdict. I would love to see sponsorship come through and this be the line up for a year or two then snatch a Baguette or Vernay to pair with Hinch in the longer term.

    I’ll throw this out there but really it is based on nothing. Karl Haas owns the distribution rights to Lola cars in North America. As much as people have speculated about who builds the Lotus Badged engines, We all assume it is Cosworth, but I have seen reports that the work is being farmed out to a small engine shop in Brittain. But that still leaves the issue of who builds the Lotus badged Aero Package. With how the chassis decision came down, I can’t see Lola slapping their name on an aero kit, but if the money is right, I could see Lola private labelling an aero kit for Lotus. If that were to occur, the skim from parts distribution that is owned by Karl Haas could partially finance the team in 2012 and beyond. Just a random postulation…

    • I’m expecting Lotus Renault GP to build the aeropackages. It would be a waste of money and marketing for Lotus to go outside of Group Lotus. They have World Championship winning personelle at Lotus Renault GP.

      Agree with the rest of your post. Hinchcliffe and Servià would be a team for the future. And with potential.

  3. Hinch needs a ride and the series needs young drivers like Hinch. He’s a good driver with a great personality. He seems to work hard to market himself. I had hoped some Canadian company might see the value in him and he could bring some bucks to Newman-Haas.

    As far as the team, I’d imagine that Paul Newman’s name and fame brought in the money previously. Like you, I’d like to know who’s running the show there. I wish them luck.

    • BR!AN MCKAY Says:

      Thanks for blogging for us, George – and Susan. I truly appreciate having something to read. I liked your sentiment: “It sounded like a good fit – a savvy veteran like Servia, mentoring a promising rookie in Hinchcliffe.”

      I didn’t know that anyone gave you flack for appreciating Servia’s talent and racing skills. Was it his fault that he was a ‘journeyman’ like other racers I love? No; he was a financial victim of ‘The Split.’ When N-H let Servia substitute for Junqueira, we saw what Oriol could do in a competitive car – win and place second in the championship!

      Redd, I agree with you: “Hinch needs a ride and the series needs young drivers like Hinch. He’s a good driver with a great personality. He seems to work hard to market himself. I had hoped some Canadian company might see the value in him and he could bring some bucks to Newman-Haas.”

      My thoughts also!

      “As far as the team, I’d imagine that Paul Newman’s name and fame brought in the money previously.”
      Yeah; I believed that Haas & Newman’s successes with mario, Nigel, and Michael then Shorty plus Newman’s ‘star power’ brought that $pon$orship. Then some odd deal between Newman’s Own foods and McDonald’s resulted in McD agreeing to sponsor Bourdais’ team — which then won many races & 4 championships.
      Adequate sponsorship breeds success, which brings more sponsorship, … so I wish that Rahal & Wilson had been adequately sponsored by big American corporations!

      I’ll guess that the taking U.S. economy & sponsoring NASCRAP meant that N-H didn’t pull in enough sponsorship lately…

  4. Nobody should call Servia overated. If I recall correctly, he has been around since maybe ’97 with Cal Wells. Has he spent two consecutive seasons with any one team since? Other than temp jobs with Forsythe and Newman/Haas, he has usually driven for backmarker teams and gotten more out the cars than would be expected. When he ended up at KV in 2008, he fit right in in the IRL and was generally the most consistent and solid “transition” driver. He could be exactly what Newman/Haas needs.

  5. George,

    Just a quick note: Newman/Haas won the CART championship with Michael Andretti in 1991. In 1992, Bobby Rahal won it (the last time an owner/driver won the championship) ;)

    Keep up the great work. Hope the New Year treats you and your family well!

    Justin

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Ouch! You’re right. What was I thinking? This is what happens when you try to write a blog while watching the Sugar Bowl. I promise I did know that.

  6. Always respected this race team. Certainly love that the name “Newman” is still a part of it. Racing aside…….Paul Newman, from everything I’ve ever read about the man, was just a great human being. Of course, he also starred in many of my all time favorite movies too! :)

  7. [...] De teloorgang van Newman/Haas Racing Newman/Haas Racing is sinds de samenvoeging van ChampCar en IndyCar afgegleden van een kampioensteam naar een team dat door financiële problemen slechts één auto weet in te zetten. George Phillips van Oilpressure schrijft erover. (meer) [...]

  8. James Bastin Says:

    It is very sad to read and hear about Newman Haas Racing having these types of problems. Where is Pegasus Promotions, when they were promoting and retaining sponsorships these types of finicial woes did not seem to exsist. I hope Newman Hass Racing can turn this around for they were and are still one of the greatest teams around.

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