Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesday Warm-Up: KV Racing's 2015 Season

We have reached the halfway point of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series team reviews. The fifth team being review is KV Racing. One half of the team was at the top, fighting for a top five in the championship before settling for a top ten. The other half of the team was stuck in the cellar for most of the season and questions linger about whether there will be a change in 2016.

Sébastien Bourdais had one of his best season since returning to IndyCar
Sébastien Bourdais
Consistency was the name of Sébastien Bourdais' game for the first 4/5ths of the season. Bourdais was on the backend of the Penske domination at St. Petersburg with a sixth place finish, the second best non-Penske behind only Tony Kanaan, who finished third. He was collateral at NOLA when Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay took each other out. At Long Beach, Bourdais was again the second best non-Penske and again was sixth and again was behind only Tony Kanaan, who finished fifth. He was caught out on pit strategy at Barber but managed to pull out an eighth.

In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Bourdais had a great run and was pressuring Juan Pablo Montoya for the final podium position but had to settle for fourth. He was always around the top ten in the Indianapolis 500 but did have a point in the race where he faded to around 20th, only to recover and to finish 11th. After being one of many drivers to screw up tire strategy in Belle Isle 1, Bourdais used tire and fuel strategy to his favor and benefitted in the second race from a bunch of cautions that caused the race to be a timed race. He held off Takuma Sato and had enough fuel to get the victory. He always struggles at Texas and believe it or not, Bourdais scored his best race finish at Texas when he came home in 14th.

Bourdais always runs well at Toronto and he scored another top five at Exhibition Place and could have had a podium if Josef Newgarden and Hélio Castroneves had not jumped him on pit stops. He was mid-pack all day at Fontana and finished 14th. At Milwaukee, Bourdais laid a shellacking on the field. Josef Newgarden dominated the first half of the race but when Newgarden and company pitted under a caution, Bourdais stayed out after pitting just 16 laps prior to the that caution. The Frenchman pulled away and scored his second victory of the season. He started 24th at Iowa after brushing the wall in qualifying and worked his way to a ninth place finish.

After the first thirteen races, he was sixth in the championship, 79 points behind Montoya and appeared to have a shot at the title. He started third at Mid-Ohio and was running around the top ten all race but the penultimate caution caught him out, just like Montoya, except Bourdais was mired in 18th and could only pick up one position in the final 20 laps. Pocono ended with an early accident on a restart and Bourdais would have had a top ten if he hadn't run into the back of Graham Rahal, causing him to be handed a drive-through penalty, which dropped him to 20th. That penalty dropped him from seventh in the championship to tenth.

Sébastien Bourdais's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (406 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 145
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 10.285
Average Finish: 10.875

Stefano Coletti rarely stood out in his rookie season
Stefano Coletti
The Monegasque driver did not have a great rookie season in IndyCar. Stefano Coletti finished a lap down in his debut at St. Petersburg and made a great save in the wet at NOLA but once again finished a lap down. At Long Beach, Coletti had an extended pit stop put him 11 laps down but the Monegasque driver did set the fastest lap of the race despite finishing last. He scored his first lead-lap finish at Barber but was 19th.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was Coletti's best race of the year. He scored his first career top ten start and he scored his first career top ten finish as he battled up to eighth and was running with the big boys of Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato. It went all downhill from there. He struggled in Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifying. He was going to start 32nd but all the driver changes bumped him up to 29th on the grid. In the race, he was in the back half of the pack all race and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Jack Hawksworth and Sebastián Saavedra made contact, causing Saavedra's car to come into Coletti's path.

He would finish the next three races one lap down. He retired after 40 laps at Toronto. He slightly rebounded at Fontana, finishing on the lead lap in 11th but benefitted greatly from attrition. His engine failed him at Milwaukee. He had an accident at Iowa. He was no-where to be found at Mid-Ohio and a mechanical failure ended his race before completing 20 laps at Pocono. At Sonoma, Coletti worked himself to the top five, and I mean legitimately worked his way to the top five. However, his radio quit on him and because IndyCar is too over the top with safety and has completely forgotten about pit boards, black-flagged Coletti, dropping him to 17th in the final results.

Stefano Coletti's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 19th (203 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.642
Average Finish: 18.5

This was a good year for KV Racing but it definitely could have been better. After Iowa, it appeared Bourdais was going to be able to keep himself alive for the Astor Cup only to have the worst three-race stretch of his career. Bourdais meshes well with KV Racing. They have something there and they can compete at the front. It seemed though that Bourdais struggled to get by the Penske drivers at the start of the season. He would start right behind them but wasn't able to get by them during the race. That seemed to be amended as the season went on but qualifying is one area that Bourdais could improve on, although, everyone in IndyCar could improve on their qualifying form.

A lot of people want to kick Coletti to the curb after year one and I understand why. However, he was learning everything from scratch. Testing is much more limited now than 12-20 years ago when a driver (Montoya, Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira, Alex Zanardi) could come over from Europe and be fast off the plane in IndyCar. Unless a driver is horrid (Francesco Dracone), I rarely think a driver should be booted for good after one season. In Coletti's case, because he was rarely in the front half of the grid and rarely had his race end because of an accident, I would give him one more season. If he shows improvements and can finish ahead of a driver who only ran half the races in the championship, then maybe he gets a third year. But for now, I would like to see Coletti get a second chance.

I don't know if KV will give Coletti that second chance. KV has to know that they have the capabilities to run two competitive cars. If they can find the right driver to pair with Bourdais, they could find a driver in championship contention. KV is the Chevrolet-equivalent of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They have one great driver but the second is letting them down. However, this is IndyCar. Look at who gets hired for second seats. It makes more sense for Ryan Briscoe, Simona de Silvestro, J.R. Hildebrand or even Mikhail Aleshin or James Davison to get that seat, but it's the James Jakes' and Sebastián Saavedra's of the world who get second seats.

KV has the driver and the capability to take the fight to Penske and the other top teams. If they make the right moves in the offseason, they could find themselves as championship contenders in 2016.