Vasser, “Sulli” shooting for more wins, possible KVSH title in 2016

Photo: IndyCar

If last year Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing proved one-car teams can be thorns in the side of the four-car behemoths from Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, then KVSH Racing is hoping that 2016 is its turn to upset the formbook and convert its undoubted potential into a similar RLL-type single-car title-contending run in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

You’re probably wondering how a team that’s only won four races in the last three years – Sebastien Bourdais’ two wins last year and one in 2014, and Tony Kanaan’s Indianapolis 500 triumph in 2013 – can pull that off.

The key, as team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan say (Kevin Kalkhoven is third team co-owner), is continuity in personnel and a reduction to the one-car effort with Olivier Boisson remaining as engineer.

“We wanted to keep two cars open for economies of scale on the financial side,” Vasser told NBC Sports at Phoenix International Raceway for the Test in the West last weekend.

“We talked about it all through the offseason. We had a couple options. But the last few years, the second car hasn’t lived up to what it could be financially and performance wise.

“We put everything behind the ‘11 arrow’ from the sponsor side. Then we always looked for the second car, whether it was (Sebastian) Saavedra or (Stefano) Coletti last year to really add to it, and it just didn’t. It seemed to suck everything away. We’re all pretty excited for just one car.”

Sullivan added to it, noting the team’s preparation throughout the winter even despite limited testing (just Road America and Phoenix).

“That’s certainly the plan. In all the interviews we had at the end of last season and in the offseason, this was a one-directional focus year for us,” Sullivan told NBC Sports.

“The car itself, I think, is probably one of the best cars we’ve ever built from a preparation perspective coming in, as far as how the car has been put together and been built, the weight savings and the fuel flow work.

“We’re probably putting one of the best cars on the track we ever have put on. And if you couple that with the fact that we have one focus, and that’s KVSH and all around Seb, and I’m hoping this is going to be a good season for us.”

Saavedra (21st in 2014) and Coletti (19th last year) both years finished as the last place full-time driver in points.

Bourdais has been a misleading 10th both of the last two years, because he’s had top-five potential.

Sullivan’s efforts this winter have been nothing short of tireless to even ensure the No. 11 HYDROXYCUT Chevrolet continued into 2016.

Some key changes within HYDROXYCUT meant a delay in the completion process, and Bourdais’ one-year contract extension was only finalized in the days leading up to the Phoenix test.

“It’s a one-year extension to what we have, and hopefully we’re able to add to that and build for multi years in the future,” Vasser explained. “But that’s going to come from us securing commercial partners to do so and then Sebastien deciding if he wants to stay with us and this is a team that he wants to be with in the future. It’s certainly a goal. We’re not ready to put him out to pasture.”

Vasser noted there’s still a lot of commercial partner continuity for 2016.

“It’s everything, really,” Vasser said. “We’re going on our eighth year with Plantronics; our seventh with GEICO; American Racing Wheels is another one we’ve had for a long time, and then having Mouser back on board after being gone a couple years. We won Indy with Tony Kanaan with a HYDROXYCUT and Mouser car. So that should be cool for the 100th running.”

Vasser said until the final four races last year, Bourdais was theoretically in title contention, hence the high hopes for 2016.

“For the season, first, we’re keeping the nucleus of our team together with Seb,” Vasser said. “We really believe we’re in a position to fight for the championship, for the first time, maybe, in the history of KV Racing.

“We won two races last year and one the year before. I think we can win four races this year.

“I really think… we were in the championship until Mid-Ohio. But we got caught out when they closed the pits.

“We just s–t our pants the last four races. Seb crashed at Pocono. Pocono was a disaster all around with (losing) Justin (Wilson).

“Then we were actually fifth in points until Seb got the penalty for hitting Rahal (at Sonoma), and at that point, we were fifth.

“We feel going into this year we can win the championship.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”