Kevin Kolkhaven (right) celebrates a 2013 Indianapolis 500 victory with Jimmy Vasser (left) and Tony Kanaan. (IndyCar photo)

Former Champ Car Owner Kevin Kalkhoven, 77

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kevin Kalkhoven, one of the key figures that kept the Champ Car Series alive in the early 2000s but helped end the split through unification with Tony George and the Indy Racing, has died according to a statement from Cosworth.

Kalkhoven owned Cosworth, which built and supplied the engines that were used in the Champ Car World Series. Cosworth issued a statement Tuesday morning.

“Cosworth has paid tribute to the company’s former COB Kevin Kalkhoven, who sadly passed away this morning, at the age of 77, following a recent illness,” the statement said.

Kevin Kalkhoven (left) converses with Sebastien Bourdais. (IndyCar photo)

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said on Twitter, “Deeply saddened at the loss of Kevin Kalkhoven. An Indy 500 winner, owner of ChampCar, Cosworth and the Long Beach Grand Prix, Kevin was a major force in motorsport but also a great colleague and friend, whose business success was mirrored by his generosity to great causes.”

Kalkhoven joined CART as a team owner at the height of the split with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the creation of the Indy Racing League. Kalkhoven’s wealth helped keep CART viable over some lean times.

When CART’s assets were put up for bid in court, George tried to purchase the remaining assets with the hope of unification. But Kalkhoven was a key part of a leadership team that also included wealthy team owner Gerry Forsythe that ultimately won out and the judge ruled in their favor.

The series was rebranded as the Champ Car World Series and continued to feature outstanding talent, such as Sebastien Bourdais, the only driver to win four-straight championships in CART/Champ Car/IndyCar history and Paul Tracy.

But the Indy Racing League featured the Indianapolis 500 and that event alone ensured that ultimately, the IRL would prevail.

George and Kalkhoven bumped into each other during a skiing trip and began to discuss the possibility of “merging” the two series. Forsythe was adamantly against such a concept and the series continued through the 2007 season.

But with many Champ Car Series teams struggling to remain in business, Kalkhoven confirmed the series would not continue in 2008. George agreed to purchase the series from the owners for $22 million and the teams from Champ Car could join the IRL, creating today’s IndyCar Series.

George provided the Champ Car Series teams with IRL chassis and engines and the split that began with the IRL’s first season of competition in 1996 ended in February 2008.

Kalkhoven remained as an IndyCar Series team owner along with Jimmy Vasser with KV Racing. The duo combined to win the 2013 Indianapolis 500 with Tony Kanaan driving.

“Kevin Kalkhoven lived life to the absolute fullest,” Vasser said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

“Motorsports has lost one of its true leaders. Kevin Kalkhoven had a great passion for open-wheel racing, and his vision and support helped guide the sport through some turbulent times,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske. “As a leader of the Champ Car World Series, Cosworth Engineering and the KV Racing Technology team, Kevin had an incredible impact on IndyCar. Our thoughts are with the Kalkhoven family and Kevin’s many friends and colleagues that are coping with his loss.”

15 January, 2014, Detroit, Michigan, USA
2013 Indy 500 Winner Tony Kanaan poses with his team owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven and their Baby Borg-Warner trophies
© 2014, Michael L. Levitt
Kevin Kalkhoven (right) poses with Tony Kanaan (center), Jimmy Vasser and their Baby Borg-Warner trophies. (Michael L. Levitt/LAT photo)

Kalkhoven was also one of the owners of the Long Beach Grand Prix along with Forsythe.

“The entire Grand Prix Ass’n of Long Beach family is saddened to hear of the passing of our co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven,” said Grand Prix Ass’n of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian in a statement. “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.”

He was also a co-owner of Cosworth. Additionally, he was a venture capitalist from Australia.

“Kevin proved an influential figure in repositioning Cosworth from a motorsport powerhouse into a growing and profitable, transportation technology business up to his resignation as director and chairman of the board earlier this year, at which time Hal Reisiger was elected chairman,” Cosworth said in a statement. “Through his passion for the Cosworth brand, Kalkhoven worked tirelessly to ensure that the business not only retained its relevancy in the motorsport and automotive sectors, but also expanded into adjacent markets, such as marine, defense and aerospace.

“He was also instrumental in Cosworth expanding its global footprint with an eye on international market trends. He possessed a visionary outlook that Cosworth’s shareholders have pledged to continue for the future continued growth of the business.

“Cosworth extends its condolences to Kevin’s family and loved ones and respect their wishes for privacy at this difficult time.”

Hal Reisiger, CEO and chairman of Cosworth, said: “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 honor 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.”