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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

IndyCar Season Review: Mario Moraes

Mario Moraes hit a wall in more ways than one in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

After a stretch of strong finishes to close out the 2009 season, Moraes looked like an up-and-coming hot property in IndyCar with KV Racing Technology. In fact, before the season, many were saying that KV had, as a team, surpassed many others in the garage, and were poised for a strong run with Moraes this year.

But Moraes was initially not brought back by KVRT, replaced in the team's flagship No. 5 with ex-Formula 1 pilot Takuma Sato. Much of Moraes' family backing, coming from of Brazilian conglomerate Votorantim, was lost with the death of his father in the middle of the 2009 season. When the team finally brought him back in a third car, the No. 32, it was only days before the season opening race at Sao Paulo.

Moraes had not tested an IndyCar all offseason, and his rust showed in a spectacular first-corner wreck. As the field kicked up dust and bunched in the first corner, Moraes misjudged the braking zone, lost control of his car, and landed on top of Marco Andretti.

That event proved an omen for the rest of the season. Moraes wrecked six times this year, up from only four in 2009. Five of the six came in the first half of the season, all but killing any chances of a solid season.

Notable incidents included wrecks on the fourth day of practice for the Indianapolis 500; an accident 17 laps into that race; a frontstretch crash with Helio Castroneves at Texas; and a hard crash at Motegi that sent Moraes to the hospital with back pain. It was part of a nightmare season for KV, which saw its three full-time cars fail to finish 21 times in a combined 51 starts.

His season-ending DNF at Homestead, coming off the hard Motegi wreck, was attributed to mechanical failure, not a surprise given the amount of damages the entire KVRT team accrued over the course of the year. The final two races were especially disappointing given that Moraes had finished fifth and seventh in the same two events last year.

Worse, his third place finish at Chicagoland in 2009 would remain his career-best performance. In 2010, Moraes could muster no better than a fifth place finish at Watkins Glen, though he also had top-10s at Long Beach, Kansas, and Edmonton. It all amounted to a 15th place run in the final standings, down one position and 17 points from last season.

It was far from the 2010 season that many were expecting Moraes to have. Granted, it wasn't his fault that he wasn't able to test before the season, that his team may have over-expanded, or that his teammates had similar problems staying out of the garage on race day. Nonetheless, had Moraes continued progressing as in 2009, a top-10 finish in points should have been attainable.

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