8043We have just been advised by Team Lexus' Public Relations & Marketing Manager Leroy Alfred Taylor III (better known to the my.IS community as member Apex84) that the following article from the speedArena website is, indeed, correct:
<P>Lexus - Missing In Action??
<P>Back in December of last year, American Le Mans Series fans were greeted with this bit of good news from the series:
<P>To top off a great week of news for the American Le Mans Series, today Lexus announces its entry into the GT2S class with a pair of Lexus IS350 sport sedans. Lexus is the second elite manufacturer to announce its factory involvement in the series in three days, joining BMW within the new formed class. This marks the debut for the Japanese manufacturer in the ALMS and their addition to the series will be welcomed with open arms.
<P>As of today, those fans are still standing there with open arms waiting to see these cars hit the track. Unfortunately, recent rumors have lead us to believe that we will never see these cars on track, at least for the remainder of this year and in the hands of Team Lexus. Just what is the real story behind these mysterious cars and will we see them on track any time soon?
<P>Well, the quick and easy answer is unfortunately, no. Talking with some folks close to the program and the team, it looks as if Team Lexus have indeed dropped the program and will not be bringing these cars to the track. Its an unfortunate story of, what seems to be, poor decisions made at the top levels of the program that have caused the team to abandon the project, which is really sad considering they have a fully built GT2S Lexus IS350 built and ready to go.
<P>I’ll preface this by saying that there are always multiple sides to any story and this is from information I have gathered solely with speaking with people close to Team Lexus. Upon speaking to them, it seems that some at Toyota Racing Development (TRD) became very interested in this project after the initial announcements were made by Lexus and were interested in taking over the project. Serious changes had been going on at TRD with their new interest in NASCAR and their moving their entire operation to the NASCAR land of North Carolina. With that, early last spring, a couple TRD employees were left behind and put in a position to oversee the build of the new Lexus ALMS project, which was not part of Team Lexus’ original contract. Unfortunately, according to those same sources, internal “political” issues and delayed funding for the team, lead to the project falling behind schedule. However, TRD reports to Lexus lead them to believe that the team was the problem, the reason they were behind schedule and ultimately not capable of completing the project. After this continued for some time and with infighting between the team, TRD and Lexus, the project became so out of order that Chuck Goldsborough, team principal of Team Lexus, said he had enough and put an end to the project. Unfortunately, at this point, it doesn’t look like the project will be salvaged, at least under the banner of Team Lexus.
<P>As was said before, some of the real bad news in this is that there is a car fully built and ready to race. That’s right, when I was able to stop by the shop near Baltimore, Maryland on Tuesday; I was greeted by a beautiful, orange, ALMS ready, IS350. If Lexus, TRD and Team Lexus could have settled differences, these cars would have been on track racing in the ALMS. At this point the car has been complete for over a month, it has undergone initial systems testing at a local airport and has even run laps away from prying eyes at an east coast track.
<P>Judging from the looks of the car, I have no doubt it would have been on the right road to being competitive. Looking at the exterior of the car it looks mean, wide fender flares and an aggressive stance make it look ready for business. The quality and fit of the carbon body work is as good as any I’ve seen and is top notch. When you look inside, the cage is a thing of beauty and everything inside is wonderfully powder coated in grey. Every piece of aluminum, carbon or steel is meticulously prepared and welds on all pieces are excellent. The bottom line is this car is up to the standard of anything currently in the ALMS and if you were told it came out of the shops of Pratt and Miller, Prodrive or Audi you wouldn’t question it for a minute. No expense seems to have been spared and all the parts are of the highest quality. Some may have doubted the ability for Team Lexus to pull off a “from the ground up” build of a highly sophisticated race car, but I can assure you, seeing this car has quenched any doubts that I might have had. The car is simply excellent and it’s almost a crime that we will not see it on track.
<P>So what lies in store for Lexus? At this point it’s not entirely clear what Lexus will do with the project. TRD wanted to take it over and it seems they may now get their way. We know there has been talk of Tom Milner and Prototype Technology Group (PTG) taking over the project and that may end up to be the case, we’ll have to wait and see, though at this point I’ve been told no final decisions have been made. However, it does look that even if that were to be the case, its over for this season and the project will have to begin again from scratch for next year if Lexus and TRD want to pursue it. At this point, I’ve been told, its not likely that any of these cars or parts will be transferred from Team Lexus to PTG should they take over, so PTG will have to go at it from scratch. The best case scenario would have Lexus and Team Lexus patching things up and finding a way to get the built cars to the new team, though I’m not holding my breath at this point from the way things sound. Hopefully that will happen and we will see Lexus on track in the ALMS at Sebring in ’07. As for Team Lexus, I’ve been told that they are already looking toward a new project, though if it works out, I wouldn’t look for them to be calling themselves “Team Lexus” for much longer.
<P>To view the original article, which includes several photos of one of the two Team Lexus American Le Mans Series GT2-S IS350 racers, <A HREF="http://www.speedarena.com/news/publish/features/article_7137.shtml">click here.</A>
<P>I asked Leroy Alfred (Apex84) a few questions about this sad development, but was told that, under legal advice, he couldn't really elaborate much beyond what the article says. He did reemphasize, though, that the "talk of Tom Milner and Prototype Technology Group (PTG) taking over the project" was just an unsubstantiated rumo(u)r.
<P>News, indeed, travels fast throughout the Internet, and, as we were getting ready to write this story, we spotted <A HREF="http://my.is/forums/showthread.php?t=305414">a General Discussion thread started by my.IS member MrMark</A> on this very subject.