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.

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”