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Thursday, March 11, 2010

IndyCar Season Preview: HVM Racing

HVM Racing entered last year looking to improve on its 2008 results with Venezuelan driver E.J. Viso. Despite reportedly receiving some of the worst equipment of the transitioning Champ Car teams, they still managed to score one top five and seven top-10s.

Last year, however, everything that could have gone wrong for HVM did. Viso failed to finish his first seven races, and even though he only had one DNF after that, the damage was done; Viso brought up the rear of all full-time IZOD IndyCar Series drivers last year. He scored 38 fewer points in 2009 than he did in 2008, and only have one top-10 placing, a seventh at Watkins Glen.

Adding Robert Doornbos to a second car for the last five races didn't help the team, which was already suffering. The former HVM driver in Champ Car failed to finish better than 10th in his five events with the team. Worse, his supposed deal to run for the team in 2010 fell through, and he will not be in Brazil.

Instead, HVM rescued Swiss talent Simona de Silvestro from the dying Atlantic Championship. She won four races in the series last year and finished third in the title hunt, having led the points for most of the year. She has already been hailed as the series' biggest female competition to Danica Patrick for her developmental series success. Like Viso, who brought PDVSA checks and the No. 13 to HVM, de Silvestro brings her Atlantic sponsor, Stargate Worlds, and her Atlantic number, No. 78, to the team.

The first year will likely be an uphill battle, however, as de Silvestro still has not been cleared to run on ovals (owing to her lack of oval experience), and HVM remains one of the series' backmarkers. As talented as de Silvestro has proven herself in Atlantics, she can only be as good as the equipment she is given.

If the team adds a second car later on for Firestone Indy Lights driver Junior Strous, as is hoped, the team may struggle even more, perhaps running beyond its capacity. The advantage to potentially moving up Strous, however, is the return of major sponsor Shell to the sport. Shell used to back some of the best drivers in open-wheel racing as a CART sponsor, but ended its program in the early 2000s to focus on NASCAR. The addition of a major partner may be the push HVM needs to run towards the front of the pack.

HVM Racing has two of the most talented young drivers in all of IndyCar right now, and a plan in place to move up the standings in 2010 and beyond. The only question is if that plan will eventually come to fruition. As long as the checks keep coming, and the drivers keep progressing, the team has an excellent chance at moving up in the next few years. In the meantime, however, patience is a virtue.

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