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.

George Phillips

23 Responses to “Is It Time For KV To Scale Back?”

  1. Jack The Root Says:

    Good thoughts, George.

    Its really no surprise that KV has sunk this low. Most of us knew this was coming, when they took these 3 low-talent/high crashrate drivers on at the beginning of the year.

    I agree, of the three, Sato is the most likely to stay. Lotus will make sure of that. Viso and Moraes are only there because of the check their families wrote to Vasser.

    Scale back to 2 cars (with 3 at Indy) full-time. Pick up Dan Wheldon and team him with Sato. Wheldon is very good on ovals, better-then-some-think on road courses, and most importantly will KEEP 4 WHEELS ON THE CAR most weeks. He will stabalize the team.

    These guys have/had fast cars. They can run up front at most places. They just need the drivers to get it done.

    • This was the exact scenario I had in mind. Wheldon could possibly help Sato calm down and the two would give the team at least one top-10 (or better) threat on every oval and every road course.

      • Geek, where have you been? There’s stupidity, insanity and injustice that needs combatting!!!

      • Why, which insanity do you mean, JP? Do you mean the rampant oval vs. road course stuff that’s been going on here the last week or so? Pshaw. I’m over that. That’s so 2008 (plus, I’m one of those Weirdo McEasilyentertaineds who likes both roughly equally). Do you mean Hobbson’s post from today that pretends like Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson never met before, even though Justin thoroughly owned PT’s goofy, slightly oversized @$$ from 2005 to 2007 in ChampCar? Do you mean Cameron Haven’s coming out and saying ANYTHING, let alone dropping the bombshell on Pressdog (and the rest of us who were ill prepared) that she pulled a monster 3.9 GPA in marketing at an actual reputable college? Or do you mean the team owners coming out and using Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett to issue a Miniseries of Codependence on, which caused me to fly into a red misted rage that may or may not have led me to go on a seven state killing spree instead of making it to Chicagoland as I’d originally planned this weekend (half of that is actually true)? Yes, friend, these are wacky times. And I’ve been in my basement waiting for the locusts and/or working on my balsa wood 2012 aero kit mockup.

    • I agree! Wheldon would be an awesome addition.

  2. I agree George. I consider Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser as winners and I fully expect them to have a handle on the team when the new car gets here in ’12. Kevin Kalkhoven, by the way, is one of the nicest guys I have ever met in the garage area and he has a great sense of humour. His attitude, leadership and business smarts needs to be a part of IndyCar, particularly at this time.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Perhaps too much was expected of Sato in the way of results, but I don’t think it was/is too much to expect him to be competent in the cockpit, which he rarely has been.
    I think it’s pretty clear what we have in the three KV drivers, all relatively quick and very crash prone.
    Bryan Herta, Townsend Bell, Tomas Schekter, and Ryan Briscoe all remember a time when drivers with those traits got fired.

    I’m sure Paul Tracy at least would have liked to have seen a smaller KV (provided he was still a part of it). Spreading themselves so thin may very well have been the root of his mechanical woes in qualifying at Indy and Toronto. It certainly didn’t help.

  4. 3 cars, 3 differant drivers. Put Tracy, Rahal, and Silvestro in those three cars and you’d cut your wrecks in half. Plus, you might just get a win or two. It couldn’t be worse. But after this season, I’m not srue they have enough equipment to continue on as a 3 car team.

  5. there must be a law of diminishing returns when it comes to money the driver brings as opposed to the money he costs the team, isn’t there?

  6. Every year I have a “Thanks for participating, Please Go Home” driver. Last year that driver was Robert Dornboos. This year, Mario Moraes gets the nod over Viso. Because unlike Moraes, Viso doesn’t tweet about getting high.

  7. I’ve always felt that Sato got a bit of an unfair shake, no matter what he was doing. Yes, there are certain points where he’s done things that made people say, “what the hell was that?!” But he’s also had some very competent drives both in F1 and in IndyCar (even if those good IndyCar races were ended by a concrete wall). I guess I’ve always cheered for Taku because I was a fan of the David Richards-run Honda squad in ’04 (the one year Honda was good) and the ultimate underdogs at Super Aguri GP, both of whom he scored memorable finishes (3rd, USGP ’04; 6th, after a late pass on Fernando Alonso, Canada ’07).

    I like the Taku/Wheldon idea…hopefully Kevin and Jimmy are reading

  8. In defense of Mario Moraes, he is 79! points ahead of Taku Sato and only 4 points from 12th position, ahead of other drivers Matos, Lloyd, Mutoh, and De Silvestro. He is 28 points ahead of EJ Viso. I would argue that Moraes has shown much better than Viso in the past three years, yet he doesn’t seem to get the derision that Moraes gets. Granted Toronto and Texas were BAD for Moraes but I’ve witnessed Sato unable to translate his veteran F1 experience into ANYTHING noteworthy. Let’s not forget that Moraes is only 21 and came into the league at 19, having never raced on an oval. Mr. Phillips also points out that Moraes finished last season very strong and has LB, Kansas, WG, and Edmonton as highlights this season. I just wanted to state my thoughts since everyone else seems to think otherwise. Thanks!

  9. JP- when has Mario tweeted about getting high?

  10. Tim Nothhelfer Says:

    If this unfortunate madness continues through next season the remaining usable inventory of IICS cars and parts will be depleted to the point where intact obsolete Dallaras will become valuable to collectors and the carnage written off on taxes…..

  11. Thesmartestguyintheroom Says:

    Very valid points, George. It has been really sad to watch this team fall apart. There is an old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” KVRT is broke, somewhat literally and figuratively speaking. If I were in Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser’s positons-which I’m not-I would probably dump either all three drivers or bring in someone like Simona De Silvestro and/or Oriol Servia; a couple of drivers who can get the car to the finish and get some decent results. Of course, all of that depends on sponsorship, so we’ll just have to see what happens. But I wold be very suprised if Moraes, Sato and Viso are all there next season.

    • brian mckay Says:

      yeah – a wily veteran such as Wheldon or Servia, who could win prize money and draw sponsorship, and a young gun such as de Silvestro (who brings a little sponsorship and may draw more sponsorship and may win some prize money

  12. I wrote the same idea in a forum: I think that they have a great potential, especially in conjuction with Lotus, but they don’t have a great driver…Vasser has to acquire a big driver…with a great driver, I think they could be win a race this year…and I think they will have a great potential in 2012, thanks to a direct relationship with Lotus…they need a good driver!!!

  13. Viso hasn’t been that bad this year. In addition to Iowa (where he finished third on own merits), he was in the front pack at St. Pete until a mechanical problem made him stop in the pits.

  14. I’ve been saying it all along – Wheldon to KV next year, and wouldn’t it be nice to have Justin Wilson as well? Two cars. Two British drivers (to make Lotus happy – let’s face it, Taku is there on Honda money, not Lotus money). Two much, much better shots at victory – one will always be there on the ovals, the other will always be there on the road courses.

    Both drivers in contract years too, I think. (Or does Wilson’s expire in 2011?)

    • My assumptions:

      1) Bruno Senna; Lotus plus Senna in F1 in ’80s, Lotus plus Senna in IndyCar in 2011…great marketing operation, in my opinion;

      2) Lotus is english, great tradition with scottish driver…maybe Dario in 2011 or 2012?

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