Allan Brewer, IndyCar Series correspondent
An American team partnered with a familiar Japanese performance partner today when Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing announced a deal to put Honda power behind 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden for the coming IndyCar Series season.
The move will insure the well-spoken Newgarden and IndyCar’s most popular female car-owner a presence at the season opener in St. Petersburg, FL only four short weeks from today, on March 23rd when practice for the street race commences.
"Everyone at the team is ecstatic," said Fisher. "We couldn't have done it without the support of our loyal fans, who mobilized on our behalf through email, social media, texting and phone calls. Their voices were heard."
"Honda saw an opportunity and has given our team a chance to be on the grid in St. Petersburg.
Fisher also acknowledged the assistance of a competitor, Bobby Rahal, whose plans to field multiple entries in the 2012 season at Rahal Lanigan Racing came up short and freed up a Honda engine lease for someone else to use.
"I want to give special thanks to Bobby," Fisher said. "He personifies the definition of a gentleman and sportsman, remembering how we helped his son Graham (for whom Fisher gave up her IndyCar ride in 2010). This is a wonderful example of paying it forward."
Negotiations for an engine for Fisher's No. 67 Dallara DW12 chassis hit a snag earlier this month when Chevrolet and Lotus were unable to fulfill any additional commitments for racing power in 2012. Honda, which has run into a shortfall of its own as development of the new twin-turbocharged V-6 powerplant has progressed, initially proffered a plan to put the team on the track beginning with May's Indianapolis 500.
"We had been in discussions with Honda since last season, and I'm delighted that it finally came together," Fisher said. "Honda saw an opportunity and has given our team a chance to be on the grid in St. Petersburg."
"When Bobby kindly offered to forego his second full season lease in order to ensure that Sarah could be on the grid from the start of the season, we were happy to facilitate the matter," said Steve Eriksen, Vice President of Honda Performance Development.
"I am happy we were in a position to help her," said Rahal. "We are disappointed that we couldn't put our second program together in time for the start of the season and hope to have that resolved by the Indianapolis 500."
The engine deal is a key milestone for Fisher, whose team recorded its very first IndyCar Series victory last October at Kentucky Speedway with veteran driver Ed Carpenter behind the wheel. Now with financial backing from businessman Wink Hartman, and plans to build a new race shop and offices in Speedway, IN the team looks poised for a solid season of racing success.