Reports in the Indianapolis Star
and on SPEED.com
on Monday say that Lotus is on the verge of releasing two of the four teams running its engines in the IZOD IndyCar Series, so that they can sign up with alternative engine manufacturers for the remainder of the season.
According to the reports, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport have requested a cancellation of their current engine supply engines. Both teams operate just one car, for drivers Oriol Servia and Alex Tagliani respectively.
That would leave Lotus with only two full-time teams on its books - HVM Racing (Simona de Silvestro) and Dragon Racing (Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge) - as well as a one-off appearance for Newman/Haas Racing which is expected to field a car in the Indy 500 for the Lotus brand ambassador and former F1 driver Jean Alesi.
Rumours have been swirling for weeks that two or more of the Lotus-powered teams have been trying to break out of their existing engine contracts. However, the IndyCar Series organisers had to give their permission for the move as it would drop Lotus below the minimum level of teams it is obliged to supply.
If the series does agree a release for 2012 to allow Lotus to focus on fulfilling a reduced number of teams, it's likely to insist on a serious improvement in performance by the manufacturer for next season, and a rapid return to a sustainable number of teams.
The final straw driving BHA and DRR away from their engine supplier appears to have been Lotus' inability to supply enough engines to allow any of its contracted teams to participate in last month's open test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That's the only test opportunity at the facility before the Month of May activities officially begin. Missing it puts all the Lotus teams on the backfoot for the most prestigious race of the IndyCar calendar, and was a particular blow for Bryan Herta Autosport which is defending the race win it claimed last year with Dan Wheldon.
BHA has already announced that it will be skipping this weekend's flyaway race in Sao Paulo, Brazil in order to focus its resources on May and the Indy 500. It's expected that the team will sign up to get a Honda engine from Indianapolis onwards, while DRR will sign with Chevrolet - but nothing is yet confirmed.
Lotus pulled off a minor miracle to deliver any engine in time for the 2012 season after getting a much later start than its counterparts, Honda and Chevrolet, but it has been losing the struggle to supply sufficient numbers of reliable units in the early races of the season. Reducing the number of teams it supplies - even just for the remainder of 2012 - could help it get the operation back on an even keel.
An official announcement from Lotus, the teams and the IndyCar organisers is expected to confirm the move later this week. The latest reports quote IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard as saying that there should be an official announcement "in a day or so."