/headshot.jpg” width=”137″ height=”120″ /> By Patrick Reynolds
The American auto racing media focused its attention on NASCAR, the Daytona International Speedway, and the surrounding area the past few weeks. And why not? That is where my eyes and ears were glued as well.
Speedweeks, the many short track races, and the first weeknight, prime time Daytona 500 made for multiple headlines.
But in between the Florida stock car and sprint car action, an exciting story developed and then came to fruition in the Indycar world.
KV Racing Technology announced that Formula One veteran Ruben Barrichello would be part of the team’s driver lineup for the 2012 season, joining established racers Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso. Kevin Kalkhoven, one of the owners of the former Champ Car World Series, and Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, own KV Racing.
Barrichello tested the KV ride in Sebring, FL during the latter part of January. Indycar’s Sonoma, CA test was held during the Daytona 500 weekend and the KV/Barrichello deal was worked out soon thereafter.
Barrichello comes to the Indycar Series from the Williams F1 team, who decided not to continue with the Brazilian. Bruno Senna replaced Barrichello at Williams and will be teamed with Pastor Maldonado. Barrichello has the most F1 starts in history with 322, and 11 Grand Prix wins. His last victory was in Italy during 2009.
He joins some notable Formula One drivers who made an Indycar home during the second half of their careers including Nigel Mansell, Eddie Cheever, and Emerson Fittipaldi. Each one possessing an extensive and accomplished road racing background but facing a learning curve when it came to Indycar’s oval racing.
Formula One success followed them into America with Cheever and Fittipaldi earning Indianapolis 500 wins and Mansell the 1993 CART Championship. Other F1 drivers have driven the same path over the years without the same good fortune.
The Indy 500 will be new to Barrichello, but the speedway will not. He competed in the United States Grand Prix held in Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007 including winning the 2002 edition.
The glaring publicity gap for Indycar in 2012 is the move of the promoted Danica Patrick to NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. The gain of Barrichello is a strong positive to be embraced.
Patrick was a large marketing angle for the Indycar Series. Barrichello is an accomplished and well-respected racer among fans, teams, and fellow drivers. Indycar’s wheelmen have expressed eagerness to test their driving skill against Barrichello.
Indycar loses great publicity and a good driver. However, they gain good publicity and a great driver.
Moves like Barrichello signing with KV Racing are what will rebuild the quality and respect of the once-revered Indycar tour. Not gimmicks and fluff, but serious drivers with substantial resumes, who comes to the United States ready to race.
In a week when NASCAR was celebrating the success of a Monday night Daytona 500, the Indycar world was smiling, albeit slightly under the motorsports media radar, on its own good fortune. Here’s hoping the losses from 2011 have stopped and the strong Indycar future of 2012 and beyond has begun.