MAY 10, 2003
It is worth watching Menard and Cheever...
It has been announced in the last couple of days that the receivers of the TWR Group have sold the design and engineering division of TWR Group Limited to Menard Engineering Limited, a company owned by US billionaire John Menard. The news comes a month after Menard bought the TWR racing operations in league with former F1 driver Eddie Cheever, who is now running a team in the Indy Racing League.
The land at Leafield on which TWR and Arrows were based has also been acquired by Menard. This previously belonged to another company associated with Tom Walkinshaw but unrelated to the TWR Group.
Menard, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, owns the third largest home improvement chain in the United States and has more than 170 stores in the Mid West, employing 7,200 people and generating annual sales of $4.5bn.
Since 1979 Menard has been involved in Indycar racing with drivers including Nelson Piquet, Al Unser, Scott Brayton, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, Greg Ray and Jacques Lazier.
"The acquisition of the design and engineering business of TWR adds a significant building block to our UK based engineering business following our recent purchase of TWR's Kidlington based racing division," said Menard. "The skills and experience of the TWR staff at the Leafield and Worthing based facilities are impressive and we look forward to the continued growth of this world-class engineering organization."
The involvement of Menard in TWR has led to speculation that we may be seeing the beginnings of a new Formula 1 team. It should be remembered that Team Cheever is heavily supported in the Indy Racing League by the energy drink company Red Bull. This company has long had plans to start its own Formula 1 project. The company boss is billionaire Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, who wants an F1 team with a US flavor and manufacturer backing to help him sell more of his products in the US market. To this end Mateschitz has instituted a successful Red Bull Young Driver program to promote young American talent.
Menard has always had strong links with General Motors. Menard-built GM engines have won 10 IRL events and two championships since 1997 and is one of GM's affiliated engine builders in the Indy Racing League this year. In 1992 when GM brand Buick decided to withdraw from CART Menard took over the entire Buick turbocharged V6 engine program. The engine won four pole positions and was always regarded as the fastest and most powerful stock block engine although it never managed to win the Indianapolis 500.
During that period Menard invested heavily in machinery needed to build racing engines and hired engine wizard Butch Meyer, a member of the famed Meyer family and the grandson of Louis Meyer, who won the Indianapolis 500 three times and was a famed engine-builder in partnership with Dale Drake. Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engines were hugely successful and Butch's father Sonny went on to build engines which won a total of 15 Indianapolis 500s.
Cheever also has strong links with GM, having scored the company's first IRL victory in January 1997. He also won the Indy 500 with GM power and this year his team is using the new Chevy Indy V8.
There is no suggestion that GM would fund an F1 program but in the past the company has been willing to badge successful engines produced by small engine builders such as Ilmor Engineering.
Might the two billionaires and the former F1 driver be getting together to make a move to establish an all-American team in F1?
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