Wednesday, October 5, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: KV Racing's 2016 Season

The third IndyCar wrap-up will be KV Racing. The team downsized from previous seasons to one car, hoping consolidation would improve the team's results. While having respectable and comparable numbers to the big teams, the final championship result was anything but pleasing.

Sébastien Bourdais matched with some of the best in 2016 but had his worst championship finish
Sébastien Bourdais
For the third consecutive season, Sébastien Bourdais raced for KV Racing, his second-longest spell with a team since his days with Newman-Haas Racing. The season didn't start well after being caught up in a turn three incident where he was collateral to Carlos Muñoz's mistake and got the worst of it. Bourdais rebounded quickly with an eighth-place finish at Phoenix but that came with a bit of fortunate after he grazed the wall and had to go over strategy. He was the worst Chevrolet at Long Beach but through hard work and other drivers having missteps, he ended up in ninth. He was penalized for spinning Scott Dixon at Barber and he could do no better than 16th.

He started eighth for he Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he was caught up in an incident in turn one, this time with Tony Kanaan. He tried to keep going but retired after 20 laps. He qualified 19th for the 100th Indianapolis 500. He wasn't flashy but he kept his nose clean while other front-runners didn't or had reliability issues and he finished ninth. Bourdais went off strategy at Belle Isle and while everyone else tried to stretch the fuel, Bourdais ran all-out and gapped the field enough where he could stop and maintain the lead and in this case it gave the Frenchman his 35th IndyCar victory. He went off strategy again in the second race but this time he had to stop late while most didn't. Fortunately a fuel-only stop dropped him only to eighth in the final results.

Contact on lap one at Road America forced him to stop immediately and he couldn't overcome that premature pit stop and finished 18th. At Iowa, he went off strategy and it benefitted him but he stalled on a late pit stop, costing him a chance to run on the lead lap late. Fortunately, Bourdais was able to finish eighth. He started fifth at Toronto and was in contention for the podium but cautions didn't fall his way and others were able to leapfrog him and stay ahead of him because of cautions. Seventh was all he could manage north of the border.

Bourdais was fighting for a top five at Mid-Ohio with Takuma Sato. However, contact between the two left Bourdais in the gravel and instead of a top ten, he finished 20th. He gambled by going fuel-only on the final stop at Pocono and held on for a fifth-place finish. He really didn't have a great car at Texas but just like at Indianapolis, he kept his nose clean while the front-runners didn't and he finished tenth. He spun in first corner of the race at Watkins Glen. He was 40 seconds behind the leader but through cautions and mixing up the strategy, he managed another fifth-place finish. In the season finale, Bourdais qualified ninth and stayed on the edge of the top ten all race and finished in tenth.

Sébastien Bourdais' 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 14th (404 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 24
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 11.9375
Average Finish: 11.1875

Other KV entries in 2016 included Matthew Brabham, in partnership with Team Murray, who had two respectable performances at Indianapolis. He finished 16th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after qualifying 14th and he went from 27th on the grid in the Indianapolis 500 to 22nd, one-lap down. Stefan Wilson made his Indianapolis 500 debut and he qualified 30th with an electrical issue ending his race before completing 300 miles.

Bourdais really didn't have a bad year. Fourteenth in the championship seems a bit harsh considering Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan were the only drivers to have more top ten finishes than Bourdais and Bourdais had as many top ten finishes as Will Power, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball. Bourdais' struggle shows that the Chevrolet engine and aero configuration was better than average but to get to the top takes more than the right pieces. KV Racing's finish in the championship is kind of indicative of how important multi-car teams are. The worst Chevrolet team was the only single-car Chevrolet team. The only other single-car team in IndyCar is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and while Graham Rahal finished fifth in the championship, it shows RLLR are the exception, not the rule.

KV Racing had run two cars for most of its existence prior to 2016. The drivers paired with Bourdais weren't a good complement to the Frenchman's skill. He was paired with Sebastián Saavedra in 2014 and Stefano Coletti in 2015. One driver couldn't seem to find the speed and the other was new to the United States and visiting most of the circuits for the first time. Neither driver was going to help Bourdais take the team forward and the team never hired a veteran (Justin Wilson, Oriol Servià) who could have easily helped Bourdais and KV reach that next level.

KV Racing is at a difficult spot. All signs point to Kevin Kalkhoven becoming distant from the team and leaving the team's future in jeopardy. Kalkhoven's exit could allow for Trevor Carlin to slide in and expand his Carlin empire to IndyCar. The team is moving to Florida and Carlin's US racing shop is based in Florida. However, all this appears to be too late to keep Bourdais. The Frenchman appears to be heading to a new team in 2017 and Dale Coyne Racing is the clubhouse leader for landing the four-time champion.

The entire KV-Carlin situation isn't one IndyCar should be excited about. It is a net zero gain. The series should want KV to remain standing on its own and Carlin to enter the series on its own and expanding the grid. Perhaps a collaboration of the two could bring an extra car to the grid but it still leaves IndyCar with only nine teams on the grid. The unfortunate thing for KV Racing is it always appeared KV was on the cusp of being a powerhouse. When the new engine formula was introduced everyone assumed Cosworth, the company Kalkhoven owns with former team owner Gerry Forsythe, would come into the series with an OEM and KV Racing would be the lead team. That never happened and it was a wasted opportunity, especially after getting Bourdais.

The future of KV is hard to predict with Bourdais all but officially gone and ownership in flux. This winter will be long and unbearable and for some fans will be terrifying.