Newman/Haas: the final scene?

It’s been a long-running and heroic story, but the ‘Williams of IndyCar’ has taken its last bow, leaving a gap in US pitlanes

The sad news came on December 1, 2011 that Newman/Haas Racing would not compete in IndyCar in 2012. Like Williams in Formula 1, Newman/Haas in 2011 was a pale shadow of its glory days when it set the standard that all Indycar teams wanted to match – including Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. Nevertheless, the withdrawal sent shock waves around US motor sport. Indycar racing without Carl Haas? It’ll never be the same again.

Founded by Paul Newman and Haas at the end of 1982 as a one-car team dedicated to Mario Andretti, the outfit went on to win eight Indycar-type championships, taking 107 race wins and 110 poles over a 29-year run. The team’s heritage also includes seven Can-Am and Formula 5000 titles won by Carl Haas’s own squads between 1974-80. Newman/Haas general manager Brian Lisles says he hopes to keep the team in business, possibly in Indy Lights or running an LMP2 sports car in the ALMS, but its days as a major player in American motor racing appear to be over.

The past few years have been tough for Newman/Haas. Paul and Carl remained loyal to CART/Champ Car to the bitter end, but even as Sébastien Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car titles between 2004-07, the team found it harder and harder to sell sponsorship, and its move to the IRL in 2008 did not help the situation. With Newman passing away later in ’08 and Haas ailing in recent years, one of America’s great race teams was reduced to running pay drivers.

As the struggle continued Carl and wife Berni finally took the difficult and painful decision not to continue. Carl Haas Auto remains in business, and a skeleton crew has been retained by the race team.

Lisles, however, refuses to be beaten. “We’ve been compelled to let a good deal of our workforce go but we are not closed,” he says. “The last chapter of Newman/Haas has not been written. We’re going to do our best to regroup and reassess the realities of modern motor racing and see if we can’t pick ourselves up. This is not an obituary of the team. The announcement is a reflection of the state of American open-wheel racing.”

Newman/Haas was formed thanks to Carl’s persistence and the particular driver he’d lined up. He convinced a sceptical Paul Newman to become his partner, but the catalyst was Andretti who agreed to drive as long as it was a one-car team for him alone. Andretti had quit Formula 1 the year before and Newman/Haas proved the perfect place for him to rekindle his Indycar career. Tony Cicale was brought in to engineer his car and Nigel Bennett designed an all-new Lola for Newman/Haas’s second season in 1984, when Andretti took the CART championship – his fourth and final Indycar title – in style with six wins and eight poles.

Andretti spent the last 12 years of his career up until 1994 with Newman/Haas, winning 16 races. “Carl and Paul would always surround themselves with the best people and keep them,” he says. “To me, that’s huge. Look at the success of any team in the history of our sport. No matter where you go there’s continuity in the key people. That’s why Newman/Haas were successful for so many years and have the championships to show for it.

“The thing I appreciated from day one about Carl was the fact that he was 110 per cent a racer. He was an icon in the sport because he was a part of Lola and Hewland, two manufacturers who have been so important in the broad history of racing in the United States, and he depended on the sport for his financial success.

“Paul was a great support system. He was a real strong shoulder to lean on at any time and a security blanket for the team. Everyone, especially the key members, felt supportive of him. Everybody had a function and contributed to something that was very positive. You don’t get results by luck only. Consistent performance comes from the effort of everyone over a long period of time.

“And Berni was an incredible stabilising force behind it all. She was very cool and collected. I think she probably showed the least emotion. She was a great partner for Carl in making a lot of key decisions.”

A youthful Adrian Newey had engineered Andretti’s car at Newman/Haas in 1987. Mario dominated that year’s Indianapolis 500 only to drop out late in the race with a blown engine. But he was on pole at six races – Indy included – and won at Long Beach and Elkhart Lake.

“It was a thoroughly enjoyable season and a real privilege to work with Mario,” says Newey. “We got on well straight away. I managed to earn a certain degree of respect from him, which always makes life easier for a race engineer. We understood each other’s language, similar to the way Bobby [Rahal] and I had developed two years previously and we had a cracking year.

“Carl was a very decent guy to work for. He was always very straightforward. The refreshing thing about Carl and those days was that people did what was right rather than turning everything into a game of personal gain all the time. What impressed me about Carl was that he is a genuinely nice guy who has tremendous loyalty to his people. He was also very sharp. He knew exactly what was going on and if you wanted or needed something technically, he would do whatever was required to provide it.”

After Andretti’s success Newman/Haas went on to win three more titles with Mario’s son Michael in 1991, Nigel Mansell in ’93 and Cristiano da Matta in 2002, before Bourdais’ winning streak. In fact Newman/Haas finished 1-2 in the championship in 2004-05 with Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia backing up the Frenchman. Among its other winning CART and IRL drivers were Paul Tracy (1995), Christian Fittipaldi (1999-2000), and Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson (2008).

Michael Andretti, who had two stints at Newman/Haas from 1989-93 and 1995-00, scored 31 of his 42 Indycar wins with the team before going on to run Andretti Autosports in IndyCar. “This is a very tough business, and for Carl to be successful over so many years is rare and impressive,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He was a big part of the history of American racing for many years. He sold a lot of cars and parts to a lot of people and made a great living out of it. But he gave a lot to the sport, too.

“He’s one of the most unique people you’re ever going to meet. Some days you just wanted to hate the guy, but the next day he would do something to make you laugh. He’s [cartoon character] Mr Magoo! That’s the best way to describe Carl. He’ll go cruising down the road and have pile-ups behind him. I loved him for that. And Berni played a way bigger part than many people think. She ran a lot of the show in the background.”

Andretti recalls Newman’s “sheer love” for the sport. “He let Carl and Berni run the show but he still had a big influence on a lot of things. The relationship between Carl and Paul just seemed to work. It’s funny because they were such enemies [in Can-Am] but they became partners and it worked. I had a ton of respect for Paul. There was no bullshit about him. He just loved racing and wanted to be involved in it. But he was a nice guy, too. He was humble and talented, and he was honest and straightforward.”

There’s much more to the heritage of Newman/Haas, however, than 29 years of single-seater racing. Movie star Newman was himself a renowned amateur driver, of course, and also ran his own Can-Am team from 1978-82. It won 10 races during that time but was always beaten to the title by Haas’s boys.

Like so many great team owners, Haas started out in the cockpit himself. He began racing in 1952 aboard an MGTD before trying a series of Porsches and Elva sports cars. He’d grown up in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood and began selling race car parts and gearbox pieces out of the basement of his mother’s home. He formed Carl Haas Auto in 1960, moving into a small showroom on Chicago’s Northside and selling Elva cars and Hewland gears and transmissions. A few years later Haas Auto moved to nearby Highland Park where Carl sold McLaren and Lola Can-Am cars, becoming Lola’s US agent and distributor.

Haas sold thousands of Lolas – Can-Am and F5000 cars, Formula Atlantics, Formula Fords, Super Vees and Sports 2000s – and would later sell Reynard Atlantic and FF2000s. Back before the days of FedEx he ran ‘Haas FasPac’, an overnight delivery service that established Carl as the country’s leading supplier of road racing cars, parts and gearbox components in the 1960s and ’70s.

Haas hung up his helmet in 1966 and fielded his first professional race team the following year, with Masten Gregory driving a Can-Am McLaren in the United States Road Racing Championship. In 1968 Carl’s team contested both the USRRC and Can-Am series with Chuck Parsons and Skip Scott, and in 1969 the former finished third in Can-Am behind the unstoppable Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme.

Peter Revson drove Haas’s Can-Am Lola in 1970 and in ’71 Carl hired double world champion Jackie Stewart to drive his L&M Lola. Stewart went on to score Haas’s first two Can-Am wins and finished third in the championship behind Revson and Hulme’s works McLarens.

“I loved driving for Carl and Berni,” says Stewart. “It was like Ken and Norah [at Tyrrell], the same kind of relationship, like a family. There was a great spirit in the team. They were very keen winners and whether it was Can-Am or F5000 or Indycar, Carl always had winning drivers and teams. He’s been a tremendous stalwart of motor sports and particularly road racing in America. To many people in Europe and around the world Carl Haas represents American road racing more than any other man.”

Carl turned to F5000 in 1973 in a partnership with Chaparral man Jim Hall, and Haas/Hall won three titles in a row from 1974 with Brian Redman driving. F5000 was replaced in 1977 by the ‘new era’ Can-Am and Haas’s team continued to dominate, winning four straight titles with Patrick Tambay (two), Jacky Ickx and Alan Jones. In total Haas’s teams have won 15 major American racing championships and more than 140 races.

“Carl gave me every opportunity to have the best engine, the best set-up and the best testing,” says Ickx, who won Can-Am in 1979 aboard Haas’s Lola T333CS. “What made the difference was that Carl was a great coach. The only reward in racing, or any kind of sport, is when you fulfil your contract by winning and that’s what we did with Carl. I have only good memories of Carl and the team, but also of the racing world and the openness to the public and other teams at that time. The whole series was like a family. Everyone raced hard but the teams were very friendly with each other.

“The spirit and professionalism given to the team by Carl and Berni was the best. They are really nice, sweet people. It was outstanding to know them and drive for them, and maybe that’s more important than the results we had together. It was a beautiful partnership, like Ken and Norah Tyrrell. They are charming people and I would say maybe they don’t belong to the modern world. And the other thing is Carl did it his own way. It’s like the song, I did it my way.”

Off track, we can’t forget Carl’s role in the Sports Car Club of America. He was chairman of the SCCA’s board of directors from 1993-96 and served on the club’s Pro Racing board from 1993-2001. And of course there was his brief foray into Formula 1 in 1985 and ’86 with bountiful sponsorship from Beatrice and turbocharged engines from Ford. His design staff included Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn with Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay driving, but Beatrice was taken over in a leveraged buyout and the team came to a quick end before it could achieve its potential.

By then Newman/Haas Racing was in full flight and the fleeting Beatrice sponsorship allowed Haas Auto and the team to move into much larger new digs in Lincolnshire, near Highland Park. The team is still there, its remarkable heritage evident in the superb collection of trophies on display in the lobby.

Tony Cicale, Mario Andretti’s race engineer at Newman/Haas from 1983-85 who returned for a second stint from 1988-91, looks back with great warmth on his time with the team and tells many funny stories about Haas’s ability to recover from an embarrassing episode.

One tale involves a rainy test day at Elkhart Lake: “Carl was in the back of the truck wearing a new pair of beautiful $400 loafers which he didn’t want to get wet,” grins Cicale. “But he wanted to come and talk to us. So he walked out onto the truck’s tailgate and hopped onto one of the wooden posts supporting the Armco guard rail in the pitlane. He got one foot on the post, slipped off and went backwards into a vat of mud! He was smoking a cigar and had a suit on and he was completely covered. And he got up and walked over to us like nothing had happened.

“He kind of ran his race team like that. It was a little on the loose side, yet in control. Carl liked gambling, but he wasn’t a wild gambler, he was more of a speculator. He liked to go out on a limb and if the limb broke, well OK, no problem, we’ll do something else. Carl was a unique individual with no pretence about him at all. There were no apologies for the way he was.”

Carl and his fabled partner are much missed these days at American race tracks. Their dissimilarly unique characters forged a team of endearing appeal that helped define 25 years of US racing. Their memorable run at the pinnacle of the sport may have passed, but it will never be forgotten.

Chill wind of reality
With thinning media coverage, IndyCar struggles for sponsors

The terse statement announcing Newman/Haas’s withdrawal from the IndyCar Series said it all. “The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open-wheel racing at this time,” it read. These are the worst of times for IndyCar as America joins the rest of the world in facing up to the direst economic climate in living memory.

Sponsorship is exceedingly difficult to sell, even for Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. They have been compelled to be creative and use every ounce of leverage to induce different sponsors to come on board, with specific brands and car liveries keyed to individual races and markets. Long ago Penske and more recently Ganassi expanded into NASCAR, of course, in order to maintain the commercial viability of their racing enterprises.

It was only as late as December 22 that an IndyCar Series schedule of races was released for 2012. The 15 rounds include a new street race in China, but just four oval events – including the Indianapolis 500, of course, but not the Las Vegas speedway where Dan Wheldon lost his life.

The derth of sponsorship and the late publication of a calendar has not helped the teams sign drivers for the new season – as Newman/Haas discovered to its cost. But there is good news for a driver left high and dry by the team’s withdrawal. Canadian James Hinchcliffe has secured a seat with Andretti Autosport, ensuring that the promise he showed in his rookie season last year will not go to waste (see p126).