We Now Have The Big Four

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Now that it has become official that Rubens Barrichello is joining KV Racing Technology, I think it’s now safe to say that we may be looking at “The Big Four” in the IZOD IndyCar Series. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll lump all four of the Chip Ganassi cars together and count them as one team. Then there is the perennial juggernaut at Team Penske. I think Andretti Autosport will be back among the elite teams in the paddock this season. They seem to be much more focused with only three cars and a driver lineup that features a great deal of talent without the distractions of past years. But there is now a newcomer to the club of elite teams – KV Racing Technology.

With Barrichello now officially on board, KV can now focus all of their attention on getting their three Chevy Dallaras up to speed at Spring Training next week at Sebring. EJ Viso was resigned earlier this week for his third straight season at KV. Both Viso and Barrichello will join veteran driver Tony Kanaan as the final pieces of the puzzle have finally come together for KV Racing Technology. One of the most crucial pieces is Technical Director Eric Cowdin, who is finally reunited with Kanaan after a three-year stint as Ryan Briscoe’s engineer at Team Penske.

I don’t pretend to know the financial structure at KV, although I know that Kevin Kalkhoven is not a poor man. I know even less about co-owner Jimmy Vasser’s money matters, but the fact that they have been able to field a competitive multi-car team for so many years tells you that they’re not hanging by a thread. Of course, their coffers would be more full today had EJ Viso not torn up as many cars in the past two years. Viso has the potential to be fast – very fast. But he has shown a severe lack of judgment at times. Maybe Kanaan’s presence on the team last year helped his focus, as he didn’t damage near as many cars as he did in 2010.

Although much of the focus for the last month has been on Rubens Barrichello, and rightfully so – I think it is the pairing of Tony Kanaan and Eric Cowdin that is going to make the difference in this team. Cowdin was the unsung hero in Kanaan’s championship season of 2004. In fact, Cowdin and Kanaan go way back – back to Kanaan’s days at Tasman Motorsports in Firestone Indy Lights. Kanaan won the 1997 Indy Lights championship with childhood friend Helio Castroneves as his teammate and Eric Cowdin was there. When Kanaan moved up into CART with Tasman, Cowdin was there. Eric Cowdin was with Kanaan throughout his CART and IndyCar career until the 2009 season when Cowdin moved to Penske to engineer Briscoe’s car. Now the two are back together.

From what I have heard and read over the years, don’t ever underestimate the bond between a driver and the engineer. When they get along well, it’s as if they can read each other’s mind. A lack of chemistry between the two can be cancerous to a team. Eric Cowdin has the reputation of being one of the premier engineers in the paddock. In his new role as Technical Director for KV Racing Technology, look for him to click most with Kanaan but to be a positive influence on the entire team.

Barrichello has rightfully garnered most of the attention the past few weeks. He brings outstanding racing credentials to the team, but in my opinion – his greatest contribution to the team may be in providing feedback on the new chassis. This is the first time that Tony Kanaan has driven a new chassis since he first came to IndyCar full-time in 2003. Rubens Barrichello broke in a dramatically new car every year in Formula One. He’s used to getting a new chassis up to speed. Figuring out the nuances of the DW12 will be nothing new to him – it’s an annual occurrence.

As I said earlier, EJ Viso could be considered the weak link of this team. Since his rookie year in 2008 with HVM, Viso has shown flashes of brilliance and at times left people scratching their collective heads. He will turn twenty-seven the week before the opening race, so maybe some maturity has set in to go along with the influence of his older teammates.

With two top drivers, another with potential and a top engineer – KV is poised to not only win their first race in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but to make a legitimate run for the championship. You have to assume that Penske and Ganassi have the best shot at the championship – they always do. Andretti Autosport has gone through its share of struggles since winning three championships between 2004 and 2007, but they won three races among three different drivers last season. I think they will have at least one driver in contention near the end of the season.

But the team to watch will be KV Racing Technology. With a full year with the team behind Tony Kanaan and all of the key additions for 2012, they didn’t just come out of nowhere. They’ve helped themselves in almost every area in the offseason. And now they are going to force themselves into the big three and make it the big four.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “We Now Have The Big Four”

  1. With the new cars… and should it be that a Chevy engined team does in fact turn out to be more competitive…then yes, I see them as contending for the championship. This is the best driver lineup they’ve had since the first year of a reunified series (with Power and Servia). I took the liberty of voting for two choices because they both apply, it wasn’t ‘either/or’. TK is pretty much always a threat to win, or at least has to be acknowledged as a legitimate ‘potential’ for the win at most events. If the car is ‘there’ in the set-up, then he is too. Barrichello’s presence will just enhance the whole deal for K.V. as you said, and he certainly should not be viewed as a dark horse anywhere except maybe his first oval(s) after Indy (see Wilson, J.).

  2. Jack in NC Says:

    I hope your usual skill in prediction hasn’t killed KV’s chances this year, George. I’d like to see them in the winner’s circle a few times this year.

  3. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    “I think it is the pairing of Tony Kanaan and Eric Cowdin that is going to make the difference in this team”…

    I was unaware of this, but, the above is great news… When Mr. Cowdin left in 2009 there was a marked difference in both TK’s performance and AGR in general. Also in TK’s demeanor.
    The return of Cowdin, TK’s top engineer, along with RB and this new chassis powerplant combination to hash out, is a near perfect situation. Cannot wait to see how KV does this season. Sorry, I didn’t intentionally leave EJV out, and not to be unkind, but honestly he has never really overly impressed me and with this new car I do not really expect any less parts for the junk pile from him, just more expensive ones.

  4. I think at the very least, we’ll see them win 2-3 races. TK could be in line for his best season in some time, but we’ll see how it pans out with the Chevy engine. They should be looking good, though.

  5. Barrichello is plenty scared of those evil inhumane ovals….

  6. Let’s wait until May 1 to determine exactly how Big the Biggins are.

    Until anyone not in a Penske or Target-Ganassi proves otherwise I’m not convinced.

    Many people think the new formula will bring parity, I think it will prove how far ahead the Big 2 can get out of the gate. (The wild card being a big gap between Honda/Chevy)

  7. I am glad to see Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vassar finally put together what looks like a competitive team. I can’t think of a more charismatic owner than KK and having Jimmy as a partner has had me wondering how they kept coming up short. I agree that they have now joined the top teams in the series and I would like to see TK win this year’s 500.

  8. Steve K Says:

    How good can Rubens be? 09 was the last year he ha a decent car (it was awesome actually) and he finished third behind Superstars Jenson Button and Sebass that year. How much skill was lost thise two years at Williams? The car was junk but he did do better than his teamates both years. It is worth mentioning they were both rookies, but both were defending GP2 champs. Racing is still a young mans sport but 39 isnt too old. When Nigel Mansell came over to CART, he won on 4 ovals. One win came on a street course. That didnt suprise me then (I was only 11) but it shocks me now. Racers can race and Rubens is a racer. Will KV give him the car Newman-Haas gave Mansell? If the answer is yes then we may be looking at our new champion.

  9. I got no idea what’s gonna happen but I saw a photo (or computer rendering?) of Barrichello’s baby blue livery on the new car. I know some people don’t like the look of the new car, but his car looks freakin’ awesome to me.

    (Can’t say that for all of them–Simona’s looks like she’s got parts from two cars put together and Kanaan’s looked like the fugly Nikes my nephew thinks are cool.)

  10. james t suel Says:

    I belive your views on KV RACING is right on the money.

  11. timnothhelfer Says:

    I can’t wait! There are so many new good things to look forward to this season…..

  12. Kevin Kalkhoven is one of the best and I can tell you that he is enjoyng himself very much as an owner of an INDYCAR team. It appears that he and Jimmy have spotted the right time to sieze the opportunity to be flat out competitive and this will be a good team to be a fan of.

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