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Could Maldonado save KV Racing from joining ranks of former teams?

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The Verizon IndyCar Series, which stands on the precipice of a slightly reduced field for the 2017 season, may ensure a one-car retention if KV Racing can be saved from the brink.

Motorsport.com’s David Malsher reported Wednesday that ex-Formula 1 driver Pastor Maldonado is in talks with the team for a road and street course program but if a deal can’t be reached, the team will likely have met its ultimate end.

This presents a fascinating question: Is it better to have a 22-car grid for 2017 with Maldonado, thus ensuring there’s a ninth team on the grid, or is it better to have a 21-car grid without him?

Maldonado was nothing short of a lightning rod during his F1 career from 2011 to 2015, but one thing you can accurately attest about him is that he rarely lacked for pace or determination. Accidents happened more often than not and Maldonado was frequently the butt of jokes for his driving style and propensity for finding the wall.

Still, he is and will always be a Grand Prix winner courtesy of his defense at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. And that’s a statistic not afforded – yet, anyway – to the likes of such up-and-coming talents like Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean and new Mercedes recruit Valtteri Bottas, among others.

Maldonado would be far from the first win it-or-wreck it caliber driver in IndyCar. And if we’re honest, KV has had its share of drivers who made their fair share of wall contact in the past. The 2010 season featured KV’s three-car lineup of Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes, and the trio had more than 20 recorded incidents.

Sato, who was then a rookie in 2010, has largely cleaned up his performance in the years since, yet remains one of the fearless drivers to watch in the series.

He wouldn’t be the first recent Formula 1 driver to come over to IndyCar, either. Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi did last year to great effect, and Sato and Sebastien Bourdais both were back in IndyCar after their F1 sojourns. It takes a little bit of time to adapt, surely, but Maldonado – who stayed sharp as a test driver for Pirelli last year – would be up to the task.

He’s already shown his face at an IndyCar event, afforded an invite by Cosworth’s Adam Parr to the Iowa Speedway race last year. Maldonado, at the time, didn’t admit to being too keen on coming to IndyCar but said he’d consider it if the timing or opportunity was right.

“I was very interested to see how the Indy works,” Maldonado told NBC Sports in July. “I got the invitation from the team and it’s very interesting. I have so many friends here from Europe, starting with Juan Pablo (Montoya), then so many other drivers. It’s quite interesting to see how the series is organized. And then maybe I didn’t choose the best track to come, but it’s nice even to see this old-fashioned American style.

“At the moment we are not looking to race here, but for sure I’m looking around to solve my situation.”

Maldonado on his own would be a wild card for the series but if he could assemble a program, even if it’s just for the road and street races, it could well present another spot for any of the other talented youngsters on the outside looking in for the oval races.

More importantly, his presence could prevent the team from going under, and stop the bleeding from a team standpoint in the series.

The 21 projected full-time cars this year include 12 of them from just three teams – Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport – who field four cars apiece. That leaves nine other cars spread across five teams, two each from Dale Coyne, Ed Carpenter, A.J. Foyt, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson and one from Bobby Rahal.

INDYCAR, as a series, has lost Panther Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Conquest Racing, HVM and Dragon Racing as full-time teams just in the last five years since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis.

Conquest and HVM had each had a stint aligned with Andretti Autosport for one of its four entries; meanwhile Bryan Herta’s team has continued only as part of Andretti Autosport. Carpenter’s team is back to just ECR, as Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman’s tenure as owners has also ended.

KV’s history runs deeper than you might realize. The team that’s been through nearly as many iterations as drivers, paint schemes and chassis the last decade or so actually has its origins dating back to the 1990s as the PacWest Racing Group, run by Bruce McCaw.

In 2002, PacWest – as the renamed PWR Championship Racing – ceased operations and it left a then-unheralded New Zealander named Scott Dixon sidelined, with Dixon rescued only by Toyota and Ganassi later that summer. Oriol Servia was also left out in the cold.

Its assets transferred to the renamed PK Racing in 2003, run at the time by Kevin Kalkhoven, then CART’s series savior and Jacques Villeneuve’s longtime manager Craig Pollack.

Down the line it’s been renamed as PKV Racing, with Jimmy Vasser (the V) and Dan Pettit (the P) as co-owners. Pettit then forged ahead with Kalkhoven’s other Champ Car business partner Gerry Forsythe, while the KV name rolled along and switched to KV Racing Technology. Cristiano da Matta (2005, Portland) and Will Power (2008, Long Beach) won races for the team.

The KVRT team moved into IndyCar as part of the Champ Car/IndyCar merger in 2008. James “Sulli” Sullivan entered into the equation by 2013 after toe-in-the-water efforts on his own with Dreyer & Reinbold in 2011; and by 2013, the renamed KVSH Racing entry for Tony Kanaan had won that year’s Indianapolis 500, quite an achievement.

The second and third KV cars had become something of a round-robin in recent years. Kanaan helped bring Rubens Barrichello into IndyCar in 2012 but that was only for one year. Simona de Silvestro and her management team joined up in 2013; Sebastian Saavedra and his de facto “racing father,” Gary Peterson, of AFS Racing joined up in 2014. Stefano Coletti was a KVRT-only second car in 2015, and this year, Stefan Wilson (KVRT only) and Matthew Brabham (PIRTEK Team Murray, in a KVRT technical alliance) were added for the Indianapolis 500.

Once Kanaan moved to Ganassi in 2014, Bourdais came to KV, under the KVSH banner. After two years of overachieving in the midfield, Bourdais and the team barely made the grid in 2016, and Bourdais explored greener pastures for 2017.

The team, which has now rebranded its social channels as KV Racing Technology once again and reduced to a skeleton crew, is hanging on by a thread. “Sulli,” whose SH branding is now not part of that, has worked harder than most people realize to have procured the HYDROXYCUT sponsorship that’s been on the car the last several years.

Other teams like Coyne’s for instance endured a couple-year period of barely surviving, but have come out stronger the other side.

If a deal can be struck between Maldonado and KV to keep the team on the grid and avoid a 20-plus year history of an organization joining the above list of former IndyCar teams, it’s worth whatever the potential bill for replacement parts at Dallara might be.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.