Questions Abound At KV Racing Technology

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There is some unsettled business at a few of the top teams of the IZOD IndyCar Series. The fate of Ryan Briscoe and his entire team is up in the air at Team Penske. Likewise, there are rumors circulating over the future of the car that Graham Rahal is vacating at Chip Ganassi Racing. This is considered “normal” uncertainty at this early stage of the offseason. However, the level of uncertainty that is prevalent regarding KV Racing Technology is way above normal.

About two-thirds of the way through the season, Rubens Barrichello started the rumor mill by making it clear that he was actively talking to other teams regarding his plans for 2013. Then shortly before the season finale at Fontana, word got out that EJ Viso was seriously considering starting his own team for next season. That leaves veteran driver Tony Kanaan as the only locked-in piece for the 2013 season. I’m wondering just how locked-in Kanaan actually is.

There have been many rumors of KV merging with various teams. On the Fontana broadcast, it was reported that KV may merge with Ed Carpenter Racing. However, on Trackside last week, Ed pretty much shot down those rumors. There have also been stories hinting at KV joining forces with HVM Racing. That makes sense, but some stories link HVM and Honda and KV is a Chevrolet team – so that would be difficult.

Obviously there is something afoot at KV Racing Technologies. Headed into this season, most predicted (myself included) that this team would finally get its long-awaited first win (not counting the 2008 Champ car finale at Long Beach). It didn’t happen. In fact, of all the teams that began the season in the Chevy camp – KV and Panther are the only two that didn’t win races. All three Chevy-powered Penske cars won races, Ryan Hunter-Reay won the championship with a Chevy for Andretti Autosport and even Ed Carpenter won the season finale. Yet, KV struggled and actually seemed to regress as the season went on.

Over the years, I’ve written several posts wondering what’s going on with KV Racing Technologies. On paper, they should be winning races and contending for the championship. On the track, it has been a different matter. They have had talent in the cockpit, behind the wall and on the pit box with some of the best race strategists and engineers in racing. Majority owner Kevin Kalkhoven is one of the wealthiest men in the paddock and minority owner and former driver Jimmy Vasser is experienced on many levels in racing. But there has always been a lacking ingredient. There is something from preventing all of the dots from connecting.

I have nothing more than a gut feeling telling me this, but I wonder about the immediate future of this team. Last week, Marshall Pruett of SpeedTV.com wrote an article regarding changes coming to KV. Although Kevin Kalkhoven was present at Fontana, all of the quotes came from Jimmy Vasser. Anything regarding a merger was deferred to Kalkhoven with something to the effect of “the guy that writes the big checks makes the big decisions”.

I’ve noticed this season that Kevin Kalkhoven has been less visible – at least on television. I know he was at Barber, because I saw him there. Ditto for Indianapolis. But I’ve also noticed that most print or television interviews regarding KV Racing Technology have involved Jimmy Vasser and not Kalkhoven. I’m wondering if the guy that writes the big checks hasn’t grown tired of his IndyCar team. Jimmy Vasser co-owns this team out of his love and passion for open-wheel racing. I get the impression that Kalkhoven treats this team as more of his hobby.

That may be the root of the problem over the years. Although Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi have business interests outside of racing, they run their teams from a business standpoint and are very serious about it – hence the results they’ve gotten. To a total outsider like me looking in, Kalkhoven seems to treat his racing team like a horse someone keeps for whenever they get the urge to ride a horse. They pay someone to look after the horse on a daily basis, but they show up from time to time to get their riding fix. I sometimes wonder if that’s how Kalkhoven sees his team. If so, it seems that Kalkhoven may have grown tired of his horse and now wants to either sell it or send it off to the glue factory.

I’m usually not one to cook up conspiracy theories, but think about it…if you are one of the wealthiest men in the paddock, why are you looking to hook up with third tier teams? I can’t help but wonder if Kalkhoven has told Vasser he wants out and has told Vasser to find someone to buy into the team or shut it down. I won’t pretend to know what Jimmy Vasser’s bank statement looks like, but I’m not sure that he’s in a position to be the sole owner. That’s why I think that KV is in the discussion with small single-car teams.

If no merger takes place, what happens then? Does KV go it alone with Tony Kanaan? Do they shut down and leave Tony Kanaan on the sidelines again for the second time in three seasons? Does Kalkhoven stick around? There are many more questions than answers at this point. But it’s safe to say that KV Racing Technology will have a much different look in 2013 than they did this season.

George Phillips

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2 Responses to “Questions Abound At KV Racing Technology”

  1. Agree 100% that KK isn’t in it to win at this point, but rather just to maintain a social presence. My observations over the past three seasons in the garages and pit lane suggest that KV as a team is simply nowhere as focused as either TCGR or Penske. There’s a much more laid back attitude, and from the radio chatter, I’m sure that both TK and Rubens expect more discipline…I’ve heard both ask “Why can’t you guys give me the same car two days in a row?” Coming from F1, that environment must have frustrated Rubens immensely.

  2. I just about wrote off this team a couple of years ago when Viso and Sato seemed to crash every race, litterally running through their equipment. I gave them a bit of a reprieve when Tony K joined them because I think Tony could make a shopping cart competitive. However, except for their drivers, they do seem to be merely going through the motions and lack the competitive drive to get them into contention. Another way of looking at their failure is to compare them with Sarah Fisher’s team and with Ed’s new team this year. SFH is seriously underfunded but was very competitive (especially last year) and Ed was a winner in his very first season as an owner/driver. That might make one consider sending his horse to the glue factory….

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