Time is running out for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to make the grid at St Petersburg next month, and it looks increasingly likely that the team that won the final race of 2011 will be missing the action in Florida on March 25.
That's despite the team having already bought and paid for two brand new DW12 chassis, a brand new facility currently being built for the team in Indianapolis, and a promising young driver (Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden) signed up and ready to go. More importantly, the team even has funding in place for a full season of competition, thanks to oil millionaire Wink Hartman stepping into the breach left by former sponsors Dollar General.
So what Fisher's problem? Quite simply, it seems that she can't get an engine.
"Making some headway. Still have full season funding available to start at St Pete and continue beyond," Fisher wrote on Twitter last week. "However, our appearance there is not looking promising. Still digging deep, please keep up the prayers. We need this kid [Newgarden] in a racecar."
Conquest Racing is in a similar situation regarding engine supply, which is stopping them even managing to sign up a driver for 2012 making them even worse off than SFHR. And MSR Indy has an engine and a driver (Paul Tracy) but key sponsorship has reportedly fallen through
, making them unlikely to get to St Petersburg either.
The frantic rush by the three engine manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus to complete their development of the new-specification 2.2-litre turbocharged V6 units has meant a shortfall in supply to teams for the start of the 2012 season, and SFHR - like Conquest Racing - has been left standing when the music stops and everyone else has sat down.
Ahead of the change-over of car and engine specifications for 2012, the three manufacturers reportedly committed to supplying engines to up to ten cars each for the first season (which in itself has since proved an underestimation of the total number of teams wanting to join the series this year, up to almost 30 from the expected 25 that started the 2011 season.) Chevrolet has hit that mark and then took on Ed Carpenter Racing as well, while long-time series engine provider Honda has gone further and stretched to up to 12 supply deals - something it may be regretting, after a higher-than-expected failure rate during early pre-season testing.
And Lotus? Well, they're struggling to service even five cars. They were the last supplier to sign up to IndyCar and for a long time there were very real doubts that they would have anything ready at all in time for any team. Not surprising then that so many teams held off approaching Lotus until the situation resolved itself. Even so, the Lotus engine is likely to be playing catchup to Honda and Chevrolet during 2012, and few teams want to handicap themselves like that even before the first green flag of the season has come out.
In any case, Fisher wanted an all-American line-up for her team and initially approached Chevrolet for a deal, but despite her team coming off a maiden win at Kentucky at the end of 2011 they were unable to get Chevy to agree to sign-up. Fisher turned to Honda (which despite being a Japanese marque nonetheless also successfully pitches its Honda Performance Development business as a wholly American operation) but it was too late, they were already over capacity.
Word is that Honda say that they will be able to add her to their roster down the line, but not until Indianapolis in May - meaning that the team will have to sit out the first four races of the year at St Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach and Brazil. That's the situation that Conquest Racing are looking at as well.