Is It Time For KV To Scale Back?
I have been following this sport for a long time – over forty-five years to be exact. I was six years old, when I saw Jim Clark take the checkered flag at my first race – the 1965 Indianapolis 500. I’m one of the few people to be as young as I am; that can say they saw roadsters, including Novi’s, race at Indianapolis. I don’t necessarily say that to brag, since I’m not particularly overjoyed at the prospect of turning fifty-two next month – but I guess it beats the alternative. No, I say that just to make the point that I have been following this sport very closely, for a very long time.
In all that time, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team endure as much carnage in a single season as KV Racing Technology has for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Season. In all honesty, I’ve lost count of how many crashes the team has dealt with. My best guess is that after Chicago, they are now up to thirty-one crashes for the season. After fourteen races, that averages about 2.2 crashes per race weekend for the team. The carnage continued this past Saturday night at Chicago when EJ Viso clipped his teammate, Takuma Sato leaving his pit on lap 80. Neither driver seemed willing to accept blame afterwards.
That’s been part of the problem; no one ever seems to be at fault in any of these mishaps. Granted, there have been a few cases when a KV driver was not at fault, such as when Hideki Mutoh took out Sato at Kansas. But by and large, most of the blame lands squarely on a KV driver, even when more than one KV driver is involved in the same accident like Saturday night’s pit incident.
How did it get this way? This team should not be a laughing stock, but it is quickly becoming a predictable punch line among fans. This is a good team led by very capable people. When they came over as a “transition team” in 2008 during the Champ Car merger, they were tabbed by many as the Champ Car team most likely to win a race that season. It didn’t happen in IRL equipment – only in the DP-01 in the Champ car finale at Long Beach. The honor of winning an IRL race went to Newman/Haas as their drivers won two races that season. Still, the tandem of Will Power and Oriole Servia looked to be formidable. One was a savvy veteran, the other was an up and comer with very obvious potential.
The genesis of this team goes back to the mid-nineties when PacWest Racing was formed. Their first full season in CART was in 1994 and featured journeyman driver Dominic Dobson and rookie Scott Sharp. PacWest employed the services of many future and former stars. Danny Sullivan closed out his career with the team, while Mauricio Gugelmin had his best years with PacWest. They also featured drivers such as Mark Blundell, Teo Fabi and even rookie Scott Dixon, who scored the final victory for PacWest at Nazareth in 2001. Their owner, Bruce McCaw, suffered financial problems and the team closed down midway through the 2002 CART season.
Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Pollack purchased the PacWest assets prior to the 2003 CART season and renamed the team PK Racing. For 2004, Craig Pollack was out, but was replaced by Dan Pettit and driver Jimmy Vasser, who was nearing the end of his driving days and was planning the next stage of his racing career. The team name changed to PKV Racing. It was also at this time that Kalkhoven went into a partnership with Paul Gentilozzi and Gerry Forsythe in a successful effort to outbid Tony George to purchase CART’s assets out of bankruptcy. The three men ran the Champ car World Series under the banner of OWRS, while also operating their own respective teams in the series.
The fledgling PKV team finally won its first race at Portland in 2005, with Cristiano da Matta in the cockpit. For 2006, Vasser retired from driving after Long Beach. The team fielded cars for Servia as well as rookie Katherine Legge. The team’s 2007 results were as forgettable as their driver lineup of Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy. But 2008 looked as if it would be their year with the Servia and Power combination – that is until the open-wheel unification took place. Suddenly, they were faced with unfamiliar cars, engines, tracks and rules. Yet the driver lineup, as well as their ownership group, made them the favorites to be one of the breakout teams of the Champ Car bunch.
Dan Pettit was no longer with the team, so they were renamed KV Racing Technology prior to the start of the 2008 IndyCar season. Power won the final Champ Car race at Long Beach that season, but had fairly mediocre results for the majority of 2008.
For 2009, sponsorship issues knocked Will Power out of his ride with KV as the team scaled down to a one-car effort with second-year driver Mario Moraes, who brought sponsorship money from his grandfather’s company, Votorantim; although they did run three cars at Indy and a part-time effort with Paul Tracy at a few races. The performance of Moraes was underwhelming in the first two-thirds of the season, to put it mildly. But after missing the Mid-Oho race due to the death of his father, Moraes appeared to come back a much more mature and focused driver. He closed out the season with a fourth, third, fifth and seventh place finish in the last four races.
Early in the 2010 off-season, uncertainty surrounded KV Racing Technology. Then, Formula One veteran, Takuma Sato, was signed to the team, along with third-year driver EJ Viso. Then, on the eve of the first race in Brazil – it was announced that Mario Moraes would re-join the team for the 2010 season. Suddenly, a one-car team from the previous year had blossomed into a three-car effort. A few eyebrows were raised as to how such an expansion was possible, with the sponsorship issues the team had gone through. There were also questions if the team was spread too thin personnel-wise.
In all candor, it simply hasn’t worked out. Mario Moraes has regressed this season. EJ Viso has shown slight improvement in his performance over last year, but he is with a much better team than the small HVR Racing team that he was with the previous two seasons. Much was expected from the elder statesman of the group, Takuma Sato, but his results have been horrendous as he sits buried in the twenty-first spot in the points.
I think too much was expected of Sato. After seven seasons in Formula One, his best season was 2004 when he finished eighth in points. Otherwise, he finished every other season ranked anywhere from fifteenth to twenty-third during his not-so-stellar Formula One career.
Thirty-one crashes would be tough for Team Penske to overcome, much less a smaller budget team like KV Racing Technology. Their time is spent re-building wrecks every weekend rather than fine-tuning the chassis each week. They should change the name to KV Repair Technology, as they have certainly gotten that chore down to an art form.
I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Vasser. I liked the way he drove and the way he carried himself off the track. I think Kevin Kalkhoven is a very classy individual. He did his best to make a go of it with Champ Car, but when the writing was on the wall – he knew it was time to fold and he knew what to do. Unlike some principals in the merger, he didn’t let his ego get in the way of salvaging the sport.
My liking both owners of KV Racing Technology has made it hard to watch the team move from one disaster to another this season. It would help if I liked some of their drivers, but I really don’t. Viso and Moraes have both grown tiresome over the past three seasons. I like listening to Sato speak, but in the car he becomes a madman.
If I were running KV Racing Technology, I would get rid of all three drivers and scale back to a two-car team. If I were to keep any of the current trio, it would be Sato – even though he has the lowest point total of any of the three drivers. His experience should come into play next year and help him his second time around. In the meantime, I would make a play for a better name driver such as Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal or Dan Wheldon. Any of those drivers would be a significant upgrade over Moraes and/or Viso.
I never like to see a car being removed from the grid, but a two-car team for KV Racing Technology makes more sense than three, for now. The 2010 version of KV Racing Technology is a vivid reminder to us that more does not always mean better.