We Now Have The Big Four
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.