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Former Formula One standout to drive for KV Racing Technology this season
“We’ve heard Sato’s name bandied about for a while, first with Luczo Dragon Racing and now this. But nothing has come to fruition yet for the Japanese driver and I’m beginning to expect that nothing will.” — Chris Estrada, Feb. 14
Well, shows what I know!
After being part of the IndyCar driver rumor mill for some time, Japanese pilot Takuma Sato will indeed be racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season. The former Formula One driver, who raced seven seasons in the global grand prix series, has joined KV Racing Technology and will drive the No. 5 machine during next week’s open test at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I have really missed racing last year and can’t wait to get started in this new challenge with such a great team,” said Sato in a team release. “To me, KV Racing Technology is a team with massive potential and great team spirit…I am also really motivated by the chance to be fighting at the front of the field, something I have missed in recent seasons.
“I want to thank sincerely everyone who has continued to support me through difficult times and look forward to enjoying success together very soon.”
Sato was out of action last season after seeing his ride with the former Super Aguri F1 team disappear when the team withdrew from competition during the 2008 campaign. Interestingly enough, the IndyCar.com story (linked above) states that he got some seat time this week down at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
Throw in E.J. Viso’s test with KVRT on Monday and it looks like we may have the driver combo that team co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser will send into battle this year.
“I can’t wait to see what I know will be an extremely fast pace by Taku on the road courses and look forward to working with him and getting him up to speed on the ovals,” Vasser said. “I have no doubt that Taku will be right on the pace immediately. Taku’s knowledge and experience will be a great asset, and his great sense of humor and easy manner will add positive energy to our team.”
Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like Mario Moraes will be the odd man out after improving with KVRT in his second IndyCar season.
After adapting to the series in his inaugural campaign with Dale Coyne Racing in 2008, Moraes moved over to Kalkhoven and Vasser’s operation and showed promise in 2009 with six top-10 finishes, including three top-5 finishes in his final four races. His best finish was a third place effort in the wild event at Chicagoland Speedway last August, and his fourth-place run at Sonoma — his first race after missing the Mid-Ohio round due to the death of his father — was, in my opinion, one of the more heartwarming moments of last season.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the young Brazilian when he came on the scene in 2008, but he earned my respect in 2009. If he finds himself without a ride in 2010, it’ll be a shame.
2003 Indy 500 champion becomes third co-owner of merged IndyCar team
Gil de Ferran will be part of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series championship after all.
The two-time CART champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner has merged his De Ferran Motorsports operation together with IndyCar’s Luczo Dragon Racing, which is co-owned by Peter Luczo and Jay Penske. The new squad will field a full-time program once again for Brazilian driver and last year’s rookie of the year, Raphael Matos.
In addition to becoming a co-owner, De Ferran also takes the titles of president and managing partner for the merged team. As Luczo alluded to in a teleconference this afternoon, there’s a multidimensional vibe with this partnership as De Ferran gives what Luczo called “a racer’s focus” to compliment he and Jay Penske’s respective backgrounds in marketing, technology and interactive media.
This partnership also could be taken as an acknowledgement of the current state of the IndyCar Series, which includes multiple teams and drivers being affected by the bad economy and the ongoing dominance of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, which is owned by Jay’s father, Roger Penske.
However, Jay Penske denied that the merger was driven by economics, insisting that “it was driven by the will for all of us to compete and win at this level of the series.”
“I think, to bring in experience where you can have someone who’s raced and won in this series, have that visibility for the team, coupled with the relationships that Steve and I have in the technology marketplace, I think were helpful,” said Jay Penske. “But I think this was building on a strong core base, just making it stronger.”
De Ferran echoed his new partner’s sentiments.
“I think we slowly came to the realization that we would be able to run a better operation by being together than being apart, especially because we’re all different guys from different backgrounds, and we fit together very well,” he said. “And like I said, we’re facing formidable opponents here. Ganassi and Team Penske have been dominating the championship for the last several seasons, and the goal is to be as good as them or if not better.
“To be able to do that, we need to dig very deep and pool as many resources as we can together.”
As for their driver, all three co-owners were high on Matos being able to improve upon the results he had in his rookie year. He finished 13th in the championship, posting eight top-10s in the No. 2 U.S. Air Force/Marines-backed entry. His best finish was sixth at Milwaukee.
What’s more, Matos is thrilled to be working with De Ferran according to Jay Penske.
“I think he picked up the phone and called Gil within five seconds of hanging up the phone, and he was so excited he could barely stand it,” he said. “He’s been so excited and just welcomes the opportunity to race with Gil this year.”
But while everyone is excited about the partnership, there’s still the question of how the one-car operation will manage to get within striking distance of the Penske/Ganassi bloc. De Ferran said that a key part of solving that problem will be investing in technology and what he called “the science of performance.”
However, he also admitted that it may take a while to get past Penske and Ganassi on that front.
“I think given the lack of testing, [technology’s] a very important area for us to develop, and I think generally speaking overall, we have to build our technical capabilities beyond those of our rivals,” he said. “That’s a process, though. It doesn’t happen over time. Building a team with that kind of strength can frankly take several years, but at least we know what we have to get to.”
That challenge is what makes the addition of De Ferran so key to Luczo Dragon. While the team may be at a disadvantage due to their single-car status, there are many benefits that the open-wheel legend can bring to their silver-and-blue table.
“Clearly, the amount of data that you have by running two cars and more importantly the investment of R & D split across two cars makes a lot of sense,” said Jay Penske. “I think as we look to build a team, I think it’s a direction we’re trying to grow into. At the same time, we proved last year winning the Rookie of the Year with a single‑car effort, it’s possible to have success, and we look to build upon it.
“…There’s a lot of other things that go into this in terms of having someone like Gil here to provide additional communication and understanding what’s happening with the car I think will be a huge benefit to Rafa, so we hope to have a few of those gains even from the partnership here with Gil. But it is a challenge, and I think it’s something that we look forward to this year.”
After going through their first full-time IZOD IndyCar Series season last year, Luczo Dragon Racing has merged its operations with De Ferran Motorsports, the former sports car squad run by former Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran.
De Ferran will join LDR’s Jay Penske and Peter Luczo as co-owners, and will also serve as president and managing partner for the new venture. LDR/De Ferran will field one full-time program for 2009 rookie of the year Raphael Matos, but there have been rumblings about a second, part-time program this year as well.
“Right now, we are running one car with Raphael Matos, but are working hard on expanding our program as this will increase our ability to improve and to extend our resources,” said De Ferran in a press release. “We hope to have those details ironed out very soon.”
Here’s the full official announcement from LDR/De Ferran:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Tuesday, February 16, 2010
LUCZO DRAGON RACING AND DE FERRAN MOTORSPORTS JOIN FORCES TO CREATE CUTTING EDGE INDYCAR RACING TEAM
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Steve Luczo and Jay Penske, co-owners of Luczo Dragon Racing, and Gil de Ferran, owner of de Ferran Motorsports and former Indy 500 winner, have merged their two businesses to create a new cutting edge motorsport venture that will leverage technology and science to compete at the highest levels of the IZOD IndyCar Series, it was announced today.
De Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 winner and two-time IndyCar champion, will serve as co-owner, President and Managing Partner of Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports. After spending the last two years as driver and team owner of de Ferran Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series, de Ferran has been focused on bringing his championship experience to the IZOD IndyCar Series. The decision to join forces with Luczo Dragon Racing is based on a desire from both teams to build one of the most advanced and high technology motorsports operations in North America.
“We have been talking to Gil about this for some time and we felt this was the perfect opportunity to combine our resources,” Luczo said. “Gil has the experience of working with major manufacturers and leading racing teams all over the world and we feel we can bring the essential business acumen and managerial expertise to the operation. Our skills are highly complementary and we all have the same vision and ambitions. We’re very excited about the direction of our team.”
The combined skills of the three partners will create a formidable framework around which to operate. Penske, the youngest son of Roger Penske has built up an impressive media and publishing empire while maintaining a close interest in the sport via his young IndyCar team. Luczo is Chairman and CEO of Seagate Technologies and one of America’s most successful businessmen in the field of technology, while de Ferran’s successes are well documented in the world of motorsport as a driver and more recently a team owner.
“Gil and I have known each other for 10 years – when he started racing for my father,” Penske said. “Gil has always had ambitions outside of the car and Steve and I have been talking to him about working together for some time. Luczo Dragon Racing and de Ferran Motorsports will live together. We all share the same vision for the future in this industry and with our combined skills we are confident that we can make a real success story of this new venture. We have the resources and the knowledge to build a great motorsport organization together.”
“This is a hugely exciting announcement,” de Ferran said. “Our aim is to put together a state-of-the-art motorsports operation with a sharp focus in high technology and developing the science of performance. We have a very talented driver in Raphael Matos who has been a winner at every level he raced and showed great potential already last year, becoming rookie of the year. The foundation is set and with our collective resources and leadership we hope to break new ground and become one of the most competitive teams in the IZOD IndyCar Series.”
Luczo Dragon Racing was formed in 2007 with Ryan Briscoe finishing fifth in the Indianapolis 500, the team’s initial race. After a limited schedule in 2008, Luczo Dragon ran a full season in 2009 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title with Matos behind the wheel. De Ferran Motorsports fielded a factory supported Acura in the American Le Mans series in 2008 and 2009. Since its debut half way through the 2008 season, the team won 28% of the races it competed, finished in the top three 61% of the time, was pole position 44% and front row 72%. In 2009, its first full season the team finished second in the LMP1 Class.
Less than a week after the open-wheel world was stuck on its head with the unveiling of the radical Delta Wing prototype, Lola’s concepts for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series chassis appear quite conservative by comparison. But as we’re learning through this process, looks can be deceiving.
The company’s dual-body style concept makes for plenty of areas on the chassis that are eligible for visual variation. According to the release from Lola USA, the two body styles will be performance matched but use the same chassis.
“Parity in aero performance will be maintained across the ride height range to ensure that no advantage is gained by either [style],” said the release. “Both styles of cars can be raced without technical advantage and with different engines. Common parts throughout will enable teams to switch upper surface styles should they choose to do so.”
Another major aspect of Lola’s concept is that its IndyCar chassis will also be eligible for use in the Firestone Indy Lights developmental series. The chassis, front nosebox, and fuel system would be the same across both series — which could make for big savings for Indy Lights squads that wish to move up to the IZOD IndyCar Series. We could also see more IndyCar teams create programs in Indy Lights as a result of chassis commonality.
As for the safety features on the Lola, major areas of focus have been on increased head and side impact protection, a longer nosebox, and an enhanced rear-end impact structure. The matter of overtaking was a bit more vague in the release, as Lola proclaimed that by focusing on the rear underbody of the car, they’ve found “a cost-effective and simple breakthrough” to make sure there’s less turbulence for oncoming cars to deal with.
“This means that drafting and slipstreaming will be in the drivers’ own hands, rather than that of the aerodynamics itself,” the release said.
Lola is one of four manufacturers talking with the Indy Racing League about creating the next generation of IndyCars — in addition to themselves and Delta Wing, current chassis supplier Dallara and Swift Engineering are also in the hunt. IRL president of competition Brian Barnhart has indicated that he wants an 18-20 month window for proper execution of the 2012 chassis project, which means that we may get the final decision on who gets the nod during preparation for the 94th Indianapolis 500 in May.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. At one point or another in a little boy’s life (and, increasingly, a little girl’s life), there comes the time where they dream of going faster than anybody else in a race car. It could be in an open-wheel machine at Indianapolis, a stock car at Daytona, a sports car at Le Mans. Could be any car, any track, anywhere. It doesn’t matter.
For most young children, they learn to let go of that dream and go down other paths in life as they grow up. For the rest, they give in to that calling of going faster and grow into race car drivers. But in the formative stages of existence, the thrill of crossing the finish line first is almost universal.
As a twitter follower of mine said today, auto racing must excite kids’ imaginations. For the sport as a whole, it is paramount that kids become hooked at an early age so they will grow into the next generation of race fans. As grownup followers, we sometimes forget that as we try to decide what is good and what is bad about the sport — whether it’s for ourselves or for the little ones.
Enter the Delta Wing concept, which has been divisive from the moment it was unleashed upon the world last week in Chicago. Its intriguing innovations have almost been completely overshadowed by its wild, fighter jet-like look. For every supporter of the radical car, it seems like there’s been ten dissenters tearing it down on blogs and social media outposts.
It is indeed a very brash piece of work. It is not anything that we believe can be considered as “open-wheel.” And it can either be what brings the sport into a bright future or what sends it to hell, never to return.
And yet, my seven-year-old cousin loves it.
While watching the Daytona 500 at home (before it turned into a pothole-marred fiasco), I brought my laptop into the TV room to tweet a little bit. Next to me was Brendan, the aforementioned cousin of mine and oldest of my aunt and uncle’s three children. Brendan is not the car nut of the trio. That honor is shared by his younger siblings, five-year-old Aidan and three-year-old Tristan. But he’s still young enough to be entranced by fast machines.
For fun, I decided to show him all the 2012 IndyCar concepts that have come out recently under the guise of showing him what I was writing about lately. The first one I showed him was the Delta Wing.
I asked him what he thought about this much-maligned silver jet on wheels. His one-word response: “Awesome.”
When asked to elaborate what he liked about it, he pointed to the big middle wing at the back of the car’s wide rear end as well as that area’s beefy wheel barges — I’ll call them the “muscles” of the Delta Wing. I then asked him if he would like to drive that car and he answered in the very affirmative.
I then showed him the Swift concepts, which were still daring but not on the scale of Delta Wing. He was also impressed with their work. The Dallaras didn’t go over as well with him overall, but he did indicate his interest in the third Ferrari red-colored concept with the stretched-out sidepods.
However, it was clear to me that out of all of the concepts, Brendan dug the Delta Wing the most. He didn’t see it like we have seen it — a Batmobile, or a “Delta W^ng,” or something stolen from the Ambiguously Gay Duo‘s garage. He just saw an “awesome” car.
Feel free to disregard his findings as proof that the Delta Wing is indeed like something a kid would make while hopped up on Mountain Dew. If that’s your opinion, it’s your right to have it.
But I thought it was very interesting to see that even though he knew what a current IndyCar was, he still liked the concept that looked nothing like a current IndyCar at all. Considering that the IRL desperately needs to ensure that younger people will follow the sport in the next couple of decades, perhaps the Delta Wing and its relatively crazy design stands a better chance than we’re giving it.
Because before we all know it, Brendan, his siblings and millions upon millions of children will be adults. It’s up to the IRL to make sure that the beauty of speed — IndyCar speed — still matters to them at that point.
If you listened to “Trackside” last week, you’ll remember that HVM Racing boss Keith Wiggins said that his former driver E.J. Viso has signed with a new IZOD IndyCar Series team for 2010 — but wouldn’t reveal which squad it was.
“You’ll see him in a car,” Wiggins told The Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin on the show. “I know where it is, but let’s just wait and see — I don’t want to take away from anyone’s launch or announcement.”
Now it looks like Viso, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, could be en route to KV Racing Technology to team up with Brazilian pilot Mario Moraes. Viso is set to test with KVRT tomorrow afternoon on the road course at Sebring, Florida, where he tested earlier this offseason with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing before they solidified their driver roster of Justin Wilson and Mike Conway.
“E.J. is an outstanding driver,” said KVRT general manager Mark Johnson in a team press release. “We have been in discussions with him for several weeks about possibly joining KV Racing Technology for the 2010 [IZOD] IndyCar Series season. Testing him at Sebring seemed like the next logical step in that process.”
Once again, Viso is looking forward to an opportunity of sealing a ride for the upcoming season — and an upgraded one at that when compared to his old home at HVM.
“KVRT is an outstanding team and one that is very competitive,” said the Venezuelan racer in the release. “I look forward to showing them what I can do during the test, and hopefully, everything will go well so we can all move forward toward racing together in 2010.”
For the record, Cavin reported on Friday that KVRT co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser were getting closer to announcing a two-car program and that it was believed to involve Moraes and former Formula One leadfoot Takuma Sato as the full-timers. Also expected, according to the report, was a part-time program for Canada’s Paul Tracy.
My prediction: With a solid test, Viso gets the nod for KVRT’s second full-time car. We’ve heard Sato’s name bandied about for a while, first with Luczo Dragon Racing and now this. But nothing has come to fruition yet for the Japanese driver and I’m beginning to expect that nothing will. But there’s still a month to go before the season. There’s time to make something happen.