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The INDYCAR Malaise

September 27, 2012

Jimmy Vasser is the co-owner of KV Racing Technology – Anne Proffit photo

With the off-season in the IZOD IndyCar Series comes the news of layoffs, resignations and, no doubt firings. Ending the season so early that even regular referees weren’t yet working the NFL games that INDYCAR never wants to race against in the drive to earn eyeballs, teams began their winter divestitures almost as soon as the checkered flags flew for the MAVT 500 at Auto Club Speedway on September 15th.

Tom Wurtz – Anne Proffit photo

The biggest hammer to fall came at KV Racing Technology – and really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here is a team that appears to have way too many chiefs and not a sufficient number of indians. KVRT has managed (if such a word is applicable) to amass zero victories in Indy car competition (as a Champ Car entrant, and known as PKV the team had two wins: one with 2002 CART champion Cristiano da Matta and the other with Will Power). It’s been a mid-pack runner – even with esteemed drivers like da Matta, Power, Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan.

This year, KVRT campaigned three Chevrolet-powered Dallara cars for Kanaan, EJ Viso and Rubens Barrichello. Much was expected of Rubens after his 19-year Formula 1 career and his tight friendship with Tony; EJ Viso had team co-owner Jimmy Vasser as his strategist in an attempt to cut down on the weekly trips to the fabrication repair shop. Viso did better, Barrichello learned the craft of driving an Indy car (it wasn’t easy) and TK managed to use surprisingly lowly qualifying efforts to make banzai runs through the field; there were no wins, no poles and few top-10 results.

So the guillotine fell: team manager Mark Johnson “resigned,” esteemed manager Tom Wurtz got the axe as did others that have wide experience in the field. At this time, KVRT is expected to have a single entry for Kanaan in 2013, engineered by his near-wife Eric Cowdin, who’s been working with TK since his Firestone Indy Lights days with Tasman Motorsports in 1996! That’s nearly a marriage – although Cowdin did go to Team Penske for a few years.

Tony Kanaan – Anne Proffit photo

This saga about KVRT is just the tip of the iceberg. Other teams are, as they do each year, releasing members only to hopefully recall them when it’s time to go racing again. This is no way to build camaraderie or loyalty.

And it’s quite telling that the results for INDYCAR on television are dismal. While it’s now a more level playing field with everyone running either Honda or Chevrolet engines – adios Lotus – and with Dallara being the sole chassis and chassis parts provider (don’t get me started on my disdain for that decision), it’s obvious that the public is voting with its remotes and choosing not to watch the Indy cars.

My theory for this is that the series is moribund. Where is the technology transfer for which the Indy cars were once famous? Where is the interest for technical types, casual fans and those who just need an open wheel fix?

I’ve worked the CART/Champ Car/INDYCAR world for well more than 30 years and I’ve never been so bored as I am now. At least the last few years with the ancient Dallara IR-07, teams could fabricate their own parts and live or die by those fabrications. Now they have to buy Dallara pieces only and those, while they might be properly made, allow these free thinkers no way to use their education and spirited thoughts. The costs for these parts have owners yelling for relief.

INDYCAR is flat-lining and the only way to bring it back to prominence is to allow the teams some technological freedom, produce a wider schedule that keeps people employed 12 months of the year – Michael Shank tweeted as much – and hire a group of officials that are not beholden to Dallara, Chevrolet, Honda and/or Firestone, the primary technology players in the current Indy car game.

Quite frankly, I’m finding F1 (of course), NASCAR and NHRA a helluva lot more interesting. Just like so many of my friends, I’m working the IZOD IndyCar Series because there are some stories to be chased, but the taste of whine I get at each race sends my personal desire to return farther and farther away. With a fan base of perhaps 200,000, how can teams sustain the type of money it currently takes to go Indy car racing?

I’ve got plenty of ideas for an invigorated Indy car series but I’m not in any position to use them, so will keep ’em to myself for now. Just waiting for another shoe to drop before people realize this thing isn’t going anywhere; it could easily become just another Italian cruise ship, laying on its side and waiting for the jokes to roll.

By Anne Proffit

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