Former Champ Car owner Kevin Kalkhoven dies, aged 77

Kevin Kalkhoven, former co-owner of Cosworth, Pi Electronics, KV Racing team and the Champ Car World Series, has died after a short illness.

Cosworth’s Twitter account stated: “We're incredibly saddened to learn the company’s former COB Kevin Kalkhoven, sadly passed away this morning, at the age of 77, following a recent illness. Cosworth extends its condolences to Kevin’s family and loved ones and respect their wishes for privacy at this difficult time.”

Kalkhoven, a venture capitalist and co-founder of KPLJ Ventures, entered racing in the winter of 2002/2003, when he and Gerry Forsythe, a long-time CART Indy car team owner, out-bid Indy Racing League founder Tony George for CART’s assets to form the Champ Car World Series.

With the split between CART and IRL at its height, both series were struggling for grid numbers, and so Kalkhoven also formed a team together with Jacques Villeneuve’s former business manager Craig Pollock.

To safeguard Champ Car’s future, Kalkhoven and Forsythe would also buy into its crown jewel race, the Grand Prix of Long Beach, and would purchase Cosworth and Pi from Ford.

PK Racing, having struggled in its initial season with journeyman driver Patrick Lemarie, became PKV Racing the following year, with Kalkhoven’s business partner Dan Pettit, the ‘P’ of KPLJ Ventures, replacing Pollock as the ‘P’ of PKV. The ‘V’ was for Jimmy Vasser – the 1996 CART Indy car champion becoming an owner/driver in the twilight of his racing career.

In 2005, Vasser was joined by another former champion, Cristiano da Matta, who scored the team’s first win in Portland. Over the next two-and-a-half years, the team would score a handful more podiums, but during the off-season Kalkhoven and Tony George were finally able to agree terms to the much-mooted – and much-needed – merger of the two U.S. open-wheel series. Propping up ailing teams and race events as well as investing in Long Beach and Cosworth was rumored to have been costing Kalkhoven and Forsythe some $40m per year at the time.

Becoming purely a team co-owner with Vasser, Kalkhoven saw Will Power win the final Champ Car race for KV Racing – appropriately Long Beach, 2008 – but it took a couple of seasons before the squad could score regular top-five finishes in the merged IndyCar Series. That consistency coincided with the arrival of 2004 champion Tony Kanaan in 2011.

It was Kanaan who gave the team its most prestigious moment when he won the 2013 Indianapolis 500, while in the squad’s final three years, 2014-’16, as it evolved into KVSH Racing with James Sullivan also investing, Sebastien Bourdais would rack up four more victories.

Despite the team then being dissolved, Kalkhoven continued his involvement in the Grand Prix of Long Beach and also Cosworth. His efforts in the latter company helped earn him an honorary doctorate at the University of Northampton for developments in technology and motorsports. During his time in charge of the company, Kalkhoven also set up Cosworth’s North American base in Michigan, and he retained a controlling interest in the Grand Prix.

A statement from Cosworth’s current CEO and chairman Hal Reisiger read: “We were incredibly saddened to learn that Kevin passed away following his recent period of illness.

"Since his involvement with Cosworth in 2004, he had been a key source of inspiration for the business. His passion for motorsport is well documented, but he was also a visionary and pioneer of future technology.

"He was a leading force behind Cosworth’s evolution into a transportation technology business – and we honour his contribution, which will undoubtedly have a long-lasting beneficial legacy.

“On behalf of everyone at Cosworth, I send my sincere condolences to Kevin’s wife and family at this understandably difficult time”.

Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said: “The entire Grand Prix Association of Long Beach family is saddened to hear of the passing of our co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven.

"He has provided strong support and visionary leadership over the past 16 years and his contributions to our company as well as to the racing community will be sorely missed.

"Our condolences go out to his wife Kimm and all of the Kalkhoven family in these difficult times.  RIP, Kevin.”

Vasser Sullivan Racing stated: "The entire Vasser Sullivan Racing organization extends its deepest condolences and sympathy to the family of Kevin Kalkhoven. Kevin was a giant in both the technology and racing worlds and more Importantly, a great friend. He will be sorely missed.

Jimmy Vasser himself added: "Kevin Kalkhoven lived life to the absolute fullest. He showed how life was to be lived. He was a great partner and dear friend. I will always miss his mischievous smile and uproarious laughter. Rest In Peace, Dear Friend.”

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