One of the big talking points going into the 2012 Indianapolis 500 had been: was the Lotus engine really as poor on ovals as it had looked in qualifying? And if it was, would the IZOD IndyCar Series race officials really make the call to eject the two Lotus-powered cars form the race?

The answers were yes it was, and yes they would.

The black flag came just nine laps in, when the front runners were already bearing down on the two Lotus cars and preparing to lap them for the first time. At this point the cars of Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro were some 13mph off the pace of the leaders and outside the 105 per cent range off the top times that they were required to sustain.

"This regulation is fair," admitted Alesi, although it had taken him two laps to respond to the black flag when it came out and he was duly given a penalty to drop him back down to 33rd and last place in the classification to ensure that he didn't benefit from the misdemeanour. "It's a shame we cannot be out there ... it is difficult to be out of the race."

"I'm disappointed, but we didn't have speed from the beginning," agreed HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro. "I understand the call. We have to have more horsepower to be competitive."

Given that the speedway is 2.5 miles long and a lap takes around 40s, to be caught by the leaders in just nine laps is a graphic illustration of just how far off the pace they were. Race director Beaux Barfield had no choice but to remove them before they became a danger to the much faster cars approaching them from the rear.

"We were trying to keep up pace, but unfortunately right now we don't have the pace, so now we have to work hard to get to the pace that we need to," said de Silvestro.

Alesi insisted that he and his scratch Fan Force United team - put together by the Firestone Indy Lights outfit just days before the start of practice for the Indy 500 - had done all that they could in the circumstances to be competitive.

"From the first day that I arrived, saw the car and met my team, I understood that we had to work hard, and we did. There is a part of the job that can be fixed on the track," he said. "Frustration is a part of my job. We worked hard.

"We had an engine that was not competitive straightaway, and we had to deal with it," he admitted. "We tried many things to avoid a lack of performance, but it could not be overcome."

But despite the disappointing outcome, Alesi insisted that he had nonetheless enjoyed his first taste of IndyCar, Indianapolis, and oval racing.

"You know, everything was new for me," he said. "I've learned a lot about this new racing discipline, and I've enjoyed it. I've had fantastic people around me, and I've really loved being a part of this great event, meeting lots of friendly and passionate fans, and spending time here in Indiana.

"I leave with a lot of respect for the Indy 500, an event I've followed from afar for many years, and I hope to return next year," he added. "I will start to prepare now."

There was no immediate official response from Group Lotus itself, whose chief executive Dany Bahar was temporarily suspended from his role on Friday to facilitate an investigation into a complaint about his conduct.

However, the company's Twitter account posted a message after the two teams were black flagged, saying: "Fan Force United, Jean Alesi and Lotus did a great job to pull this team together in a couple of weeks. Can't expect miracles.

"Jean Alesi now has a taste for Indy 500. Would be great to give him a competitive package next year. We're working on just that," the company added. "Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither was Norwich, come to think of it!"

The early exit underlines just why Bryan Herta Autosport, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Dragon Racing were all so desperate to exit their engine supply deals with Lotus and sign up with Honda or Chevrolet in the run up to the Indy 500.

DRR's Oriol Servia had a great run from early adversity in the race to finish in fourth place with his new Chevy unit, while BHA's Alex Tagliani went on to finish in 12th place with his shiny new Honda engine.

Dragon's Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge both finished the race a lap down, but considering they were still signing a new deal with Chevrolet halfway through practice week it's a minor miracle that they were on track at all. Bourdais is not a natural oval racer, and Legge had been an Indy 500 rookie this year.

But where does this leave Simona de Silvestro, now the only IndyCar series regular in the field still struggling to do something with the Lotus engine?

"We just have to kind of be patient with it," said the Swiss racer. "We have to work even harder to kind of mask a little bit the lack of speed we have right now."

It's going to be a tough battle for de Silvestro and HVM in June, which sees three back to back oval races during the month. That could be an awful lot of start-and-park embarrassment ahead unless either the engine manufacturer, the team or the driver can find a miracle cure in the meantime.