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