We’ve Been Down This Road Before

This past Saturday morning, we awoke to the rumors that despite negotiations throughout most of the year – Ferrari had decided to forego an opportunity to join the NTT IndyCar Series as an engine manufacturer, beginning in 2023. These rumors were all from Italian news sources, and no confirmation came from this side of the Atlantic.

I shrugged as I read the initial reports, but many on social media were wringing their hands, as if this was a big shock.

By Saturday afternoon, David Malsher reported in a story on Motorsport.com that Roger Penske had released a written statement saying “Attracting additional OEMs is one of our key strategies for the NTT IndyCar Series. We continue to have in depth conversations with several different companies who remain interested in joining the sport. Ferrari is one of those brands who have shown interest and we remain in conversations with them about the opportunity to join IndyCar.”

By Saturday evening, those that had been panicking that morning all seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Again, I shrugged.

My question is…does anyone really expect a car powered by a Ferrari engine to be on the grid of the season-opening race in 2023?

The Scuderia has a long and well-documented history of stringing individuals, companies and entities along for the sole purpose of achieving whatever their agenda is for that moment, with little or no regard of how those being teased will be affected. They even did it to IndyCar in 1986 with the Ferrari 637 – a car I mentioned just this past Friday, in a post regarding the Lotus 96T. The difference was that Lotus had actual intentions of racing the 96T in the US.

Most believe that the Ferrari 637 was never intended to turn a wheel in competition. The general thought is that Ferrari built this car to CART specifications as nothing more than a bargaining chip to try and change the upcoming engine rules in Formula One.

If you’ve seen the movie, Ford vs Ferrari – you’ve seen the Hollywood version of how Ford declared war on Ferrari at Le Mans. The beginning of that movie begins with the true story when Ford Motor Company tried to buy Ferrari in 1963. The deal fell through when Enzo Ferrari balked at a clause that basically gave Ford complete control over the racing operations. Ferrari ultimately turned around and sold the company to Italy’s Fiat. Many believe that Enzo Ferrari never had any intention to sell his company to Ford. The thinking is that he simply used the threat of the US automaker buying the Italian company, in order to get a much better deal with Fiat.

In recent years, we have seen Ferrari threaten to leave Formula One, orchestrate a potential breakaway series and drop hints of other drastic measures – all in the name of getting their way. They are the petulant child of motorsports.

I don’t really know what Ferrari might gain by flirting with the possibility of joining the NTT IndyCar Series, but my guess is that there is a hidden agenda.

I also think that there was some truth behind the rumors we heard on Saturday morning. But I also believe that the news got out to the Italian press before Roger Penske and IndyCar officials had been notified.

That put Penske and IndyCar on the defensive. With the rumors out there, Penske and company were put in a bad spot. They had to address the rumors. To sit and say nothing would have been a return to the bunker mentality days of the Jeff Belskus era of the early 2010s; and no one wants that. Since no official notification had come from Maranello, they had to go with the “we remain in conversations” line.

I predict that this week, Ferrari will officially notify IndyCar that they are no longer interested in joining IndyCar in 2023 or any other time in the near future.

I could be wrong. Lord knows, I’ve been wrong before. Remember, I’m the one who said in early April that the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would certainly be run on Memorial Day weekend. All summer long, I was convinced that fans would be allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500 in August. Neither of my bold predictions came close to being true.

But since we started hearing that Ferrari was being courted as a potential engine manufacturer for the next time the NTT IndyCar Series went to a new formula – I was skeptical. Their history of flirtatious behavior with others, simply to fit their own narrative was simply too significant to ignore. I am not a betting man, but if I was – I’d feel pretty comfortable in making a large wager that no car on the IndyCar grid will be adorned with a prancing horse in 2023 or beyond.

So for all of you that were expressing angst on Saturday morning, only to be set at ease by Penske’s statement on Saturday afternoon – I’m afraid you are in for another letdown this week. I’ll be shocked if I’m wrong on this one. We’ve been down this road before.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “We’ve Been Down This Road Before”

  1. Their reasoning for maybe joining IndyCar this time is that due to the incoming F1 budget cap they would be forced to layoff a chunk of their crew. Rather than lay them off they were going to employ them in another series like IndyCar. So this time it’s not out of spite or as a bargaining chip. But, I still would be surprised if it happens.

  2. F1 is Ferrari’s bread and butter , considering the dismissal 2020 season and the likelihood 2021 will be no different I doubt Ferrari has much interest interest in development of an IndyCar project. I believe the USA is the largest market for their road cars and a Ferrari engine in a car participating in the 500 might increase some interest in car sales but I doubt it would equal the cost of the engine project. Also would you want to be the PR firm that has to deal with a Ferrari powered car being beaten by a Chevy or Honda. They already face this in F1 they don’t need the headache in the States. As Fiat owns Ferrari what would be interesting is if a Fiat badged engine participated in IndyCar. It would increase the Fiat name in a country where their road cars don’t have much of a market share. Or as Fiat owns Chrysler badge the engine as a Mopar product. But I agree it’s unlikely a Ferrari badged engine will be in IndyCar anytime soon

  3. With the talk of new OEMs potentially joining the series at some point, we should never lose sight of just how fortunate IndyCar is to have Honda.

    Think about it. I imagine Ford would only consider coming back if they were guaranteed Team Penske drove for them. If this happened, Chevy would leave again. Their presence in the sport is dependent on Penske driving for them. (I can’t prove that, but seriously….you think the big wigs at Chevy care about ECR, Foyt, Carlin, and Arrow?)

    Then there’s Honda, who not only kept the sport alive for years when no other OEMs wanted anything to do with IndyCar, but also participate in the sport even if they have to compete against Team Penske.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The Penske purchase certainly brought a lot of hope to the seemingly never-ending quest for new manufacturers, so the surprised reactions of some are not, well, surprising to me. Ferrari was always going to be a very challenging catch, but I think a lot of folks expected some movement on the OEM search once Penske got involved.

    I remain surprised that neither of the big Korean auto companies have tried to make a splash in American motorsports, Indycar or otherwise, but racing does not seem to be in their DNA the way it is with most other manufacturers.

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