KV RACING TECHNOLOGY
At one point over the winter, there were some who questioned whether KV Racing would continue into 2010: team co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven would perhaps be distracted by Cosworth's new Formula 1 commitments, there were few hard results achieved in 2009, despite the fact that Mario Moraes often ran in the top six, and the team apparently needs its drivers to bring a fair wedge of dollars. Now, here's the Jimmy Vasser-led team heading into a new season with three cars driven by well proven open-wheel racers.
Starting with Moraes, there's no question he's very quick over a flying lap and maybe the five or 10 beyond that. Keeping his act together over a whole race was his problem in his second year in the series, and Vasser and team manager Mark Johnson will continue to drum it into him that remaining calm and constructive when the pressure is on is a huge part of becoming a three-dimensional driver. Performing in front of his home crowd after a season of no testing (he was a very last-minute addition to this weekend's grid) is a big challenge.
EJ Viso is one of the most popular drivers in the series who, after two seasons with HVM Racing, has a car that should allow him to prove his quality to everyone, especially with Bill Pappas as his engineer. Although he still has his wild moments, there are many who believe the pint-sized Venezuelan could have a big future in the IndyCar Series.
Both Moraes and Viso may find themselves struggling to match teammate Takuma Sato
(left), however. If KV's engineering department has the depth, the ex-Formula 1 racer should be in the Firestone Fast Six at every street and road course qualifying session. Those are the circuits where his natural aggression will flourish, and while that same quality may make the oval-learning process a fraught affair, I suspect that, over the season, Taku will win over a lot of race viewers with his attacking driving style.NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING
It's a sorry sign of the times when one of the legendary teams in U.S. open-wheel racing – actually, all U.S. racing – has lost its major sponsor, lost its rising star racer and its principals have cut back to one car for a funded driver. Hideki Mutoh
is OK, and on one or two occasions last year he was Andretti Green's strongest runner on race day, but he ain't no Graham Rahal. As the IndyCar Series increases in depth at the front of the field, with the arrival of such as Sato at KV, Wilson's elevation to Dreyer & Reinbold and Power going full time at Penske, it's hard to see how Mutoh can expect more than to occasionally scrape into the top eight. I have no doubts that NHLR's engineering department, led by Craig Hampson, can elevate its new driver above the plateau he's been on for the past couple of seasons; it's just hard to see what the team gets from this association, besides an IV drip of money.DREYER & REINBOLD RACING
Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl have every reason to be excited about 2010. Replacing Milka Duno with Justin Wilson
is like upgrading from a broken skateboard to a Ferrari 599, and retaining the fast albeit fractious Mike Conway
is a decision with substance. While there were Moraes-like tendencies at the start of last year when Conway's in-cockpit ebullience would turn to out-of-cockpit anguish as he scanned another bent wishbone or broken nosewing, it was satisfying to see his natural racecraft and speed shown to such good effect at Sonoma last August as he headed for his first IndyCar podium.
For an example of what to do and how to do it, Conway need look no farther than across the garage to his new teammate. Away from ovals, Wilson is arguably the best driver in the series (at least one of his arch-rivals and one ex-Indy car champ have said so) and he is likely to have that D&R car running ahead of Ganassi and Penske cars on a regular basis on road and street courses.
Interestingly, though, it was Dreyer & Reinbold's off-season efforts on their oval setups that convinced JWil that this was the team for him. While the Wilson/D&R combo is unlikely to trouble the likes of Castroneves around Texas, the Brit wants to know what it's like to have a fast oval car so he can gauge his own progress.
This weekend, Ana Beatriz will drive a third D&R car. She's a worthy graduate, so it's sad that it's only a part-time gig. In Indy Lights, she had the ability to run top five on any shape of circuit, and she pricked the egos of far more recognized names.
FAZZT RACE TEAM
If this team is the sum of its parts, there are going to be podium finishes, even in its first year. Ex-Walker Racing team manager Rob Edwards has assembled a very strong crew on behalf of team owners Andre Azzi and Jim Freudenberg, and Alex Tagliani is still one of the most underrated drivers in the paddock. The last time he had a top car was almost a decade ago. He's a way smarter driver now, and appears to have lost none of his youthful pace, so if the No. 77 car is up to the task, expect to see this Canadian team in the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying. Some might question the wisdom of running just one car, but to be honest, Tag does the work of two drivers anyway.