While Mario Andretti felt sadness when his old Newman/Haas team announced it was pulling out of IndyCar, he wasn’t exactly surprised to hear the news.
The team may have kept going after it lost its heart and soul, Paul Newman, who died of cancer in September 2008, but Andretti insisted, it never really got over the loss.
“After Paul left us, it left a big void — a big part of that team was gone then,” said Mario Andretti, who was the outfit’s first driver in 1983 and spent 12 years with the team.
“Paul was an incredible supporter. The team loved him because he was passionate about the sport and there was nothing superficial about it. He was part of the team in every way and Paul was bigger than life itself.”
Newman/Haas sent out a short two-line e-mail last Thursday saying that it will not enter cars in the 2012 IndyCar Series.
A quote from co-founder and owner Carl Haas attributed the decision to the economic climate.
Unfortunately, the team thought it had a sponsor lined up for 2012, but the deal fell through at the last minute and the decision was made to close the doors. It is thought the team needed to put about $4-million on the table in the next couple of weeks and decided that outlay wasn’t going to happen without a sealed agreement from a backer.
That decision ended the team’s 29-year run in North American open wheel racing which began back in 1983 when Andretti brought the team success almost immediately. The 1978 Formula One world champion won twice in Newman/Haas’ maiden season before delivering the team’s first championship in its sophomore year.
In all, Newman/Haas’ open wheel adventure saw the team score 107 wins, 109 poles, and take home eight championships. The other titles came from Michael Andretti (1991), Nigel Mansell (1993), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and four from Sébastien Bourdais (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007).
Justin Wilson, who drove for the outfit in its first year in the IndyCar Series in 2008, saw firsthand how hard the death of Newman hit the team. While that first season in IndyCar was already difficult due to the squad making the transition from the defunct Champ Car Series, losing Newman in September 2008 left it in tatters.
One of Wilson's best days in that troubled time came when he delivered what now becomes the team’s final win on the streets of Detroit in August 2008. After stepping from the car, Wilson said: “This one’s for you Paul.” Less than a month later, Newman had succumbed to his cancer.
“I’m pleased to be able to have done that,” said Wilson.
“Paul brought something special to the team and not only that, he was able to attract the sponsors that made it all possible. Once Paul passed, it was a difficult job for them to find sponsorship and that’s what they have been working on for the past three years trying to recover from that. I thought they were maybe over the biggest hurdle and they were also getting results on track. I thought it was coming together.”
Added to the loss of Newman was the declining health of team owner and co-founder Carl Haas in the past two years, who left the day-to-day running of the team to his wife, Bernadette.
In 2011, the team clearly hit its stride again. While it didn't win any races, its driver pairing of veteran Oriol Servia and rookie James Hinchcliffe finished fourth and 12th respectively.
While he felt Newman’s absence was a factor in the team’s troubles, Servia said there was more at work here than the team losing its spiritual leader.
“Paul was a great character and an inspiration for the whole team. He was a racer, he was passionate, he was funny and a great human being, and one of the things he obviously had was fame and credibility and that helped get the team sponsorship,” he said.