IndyCar's Viso on crash course this year
TORONTO — Late for an appointment, E.J. Viso was getting nowhere fast. The IndyCar driver was stuck in gridlock traffic outside Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition grounds, site of last weekend's race.
Idling behind a long line of cars being held up by a traffic cop, Viso could do nothing but sit helpless behind the wheel while exchanging text messages to inform a member of his KV Racing Technology team of his predicament.
Frustrating as it was, it was another lesson for Viso to remain patient — an attribute the fast, feisty and sometimes reckless Venezuelan has been accused of lacking.
“Yeah, I have a reputation. And in a lot of ways I think I deserve to be called that way,” Viso said. “But in some others, I think this sport is also a little bit cruel and cold because people only see the result and they don't understand why.”
The results haven't been pretty. In his fifth IndyCar season, Viso has far more DNFs (24) than top-10s (16), with his best race coming two years ago at Iowa, where he placed third. Mechanical issues have been a problem, but more notably his career has been plagued by crashes. He has been involved in so many that his name has been transformed into a verb — “Visoed,” the title of a mock Twitter account where followers detail each of the driver's latest setbacks.
Even his fellow drivers can't resist poking fun as four-time champion Dario Franchitti did after Viso and Will Power were involved in a crash at Iowa a few weeks ago.
“It's a little rich coming from E.J.,” Franchitti said after watching Viso and Power exchange vulgar gestures after the wreck. “He's hit everything but the pace car.”
Viso can't get a break, even when a crash isn't his fault — Power acknowledged he didn't see Viso coming — and even though he has been racing cleaner and better this year. He has three top-10 finishes, his best a fifth place at Milwaukee, where he led a career-high 27 laps.
He also has been far better at keeping his car running, having failed to finish only two of 10 races: at Iowa and Texas, where a mechanical problem ended his day. At Toronto, last weekend, Viso overcame an engine problem and finished 20th.
“I'm definitely pleased, somehow, because I think a lot of the things I didn't have in the past, we have them right now,” he said of his season so far. “But I probably am not fully pleased because we haven't been able to seal the deals many times this year.”
Some of the credit to Viso's improvement goes to KV co-owner Jimmy Vasser, the former driver who has taken Viso under his wing this season. Vasser, who counted 10 career wins and 67 top-five finishes, brings a wealth of track experience. He has attempted to be a calming influence, too.
“The last few years, I think he got frustrated and maybe thought people were out to get him,” Vasser said.
There also was an emphasis on having Viso finish races.
“In the wintertime, I said, ‘Listen, man, this has to stop. You're now a verb,' ” Vasser said.
Viso responded by becoming more of a team player. He elected to spend part of the offseason in Indianapolis so that he could be closer to his crew and car. Vasser has begun seeing the potential, though not yet the results.
“He has matured,” he said. “I think he can win races, definitely. ... It's just a little bit of race craft and a little bit of leadership skills to help lead the team to where he needs to be in the victory circle.”