Chevrolet back on top

Briscoe victory at Sonoma clinched manufacturer’s title for Bowtie

This season hasn’t been a perfect campaign for Chevrolet; for one, they’ll have to wait until May to try and scratch that Indianapolis 500 victory off the ‘to-do’ list. But on Sunday at Sonoma, the Bowtie Brigade got the other big prize they were aiming for in 2012: the IZOD IndyCar Series manufacturers’ championship.

Ryan Briscoe’s victory not only may have saved his job with Team Penske, but also clinched the manufacturers’ title for Chevy with two races left on the season. So far, Chevy has totaled nine victories this season — six from Penske (Will Power – 3, Helio Castroneves – 2, Briscoe – 1) and three from Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay — in 13 races run.

Not that Honda, its main rival, has been dog-gone slow. The Big H claimed a 1-2 finish at the Indy 500 this year with Ganassi drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and that race started a three-race win streak for Honda that saw Dixon win at Belle Isle and Justin Wilson win at Texas.

But in the last six races, Chevrolet has tipped the balance of power back in its favor with five victories from its drivers. Honda’s only triumph in this timeframe was Dixon’s second win of the year at Mid-Ohio.

“We’re very pleased where we are, to come back into this series and go against formidable opponents like Honda and Lotus,” said Chevrolet director of racing Mark Kent on Sunday. “[Winning the manufacturer’s title] is a tremendous accomplishment. It’s something we don’t take lightly.

“It’s been a lot of work. We knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy. We know how tough this series is to compete in. This is top shelf across the board. We got the best drivers, the best teams, all new car. We knew it was going to be a tremendous undertaking.”

With Lotus’ woes evident from the very beginning, it was left to Chevrolet and Honda to prepare for the engine war that would usher in INDYCAR’s new era. The two rivals quickly snapped up the top squads; Chevy grabbing Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, Honda going with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chevy and Honda would also have to go beyond the call of duty, so to speak, to expand their own rosters even further when Lotus began losing teams early in the season due to its myriad problems (only one Lotus team, HVM Racing, remains from that manufacturer’s original group of five teams).

Rumors are swirling that Lotus is on its way out after this season, which would leave Chevy and Honda to officially duke it out amongst themselves in 2013 and beyond. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of motorsports/performance vehicles, said that he hoped to see three engine manufacturers in IndyCar next season, but that his company has “the resources to take our fair share of the field.”

“There’s only one Lotus car out there today,” said Campbell on Sunday. “It’s not much of a stretch.”

As for the question of whether or not there’s a manufacturer waiting in the wings to take Lotus’ place either next year or in 2014, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard refused to bite and preferred to praise the Bowtie for its hard work.

“We’re just excited to have Chevy here,” said Bernard. “It made our racing better this year. That’s exciting. I’m very optimistic about next year right now. We’re working a lot on next year right now.”