Kanaan’s Career Left In Limbo
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Like job-seekers everywhere, former IZOD IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan awoke this morning having to adjust to his “new normal.”
Kanaan is a free-agent for the second time this open-wheel offseason, the result of a sponsorship shortfall at de Ferran Dragon Racing. Fellow-Brazilian Gil de Ferran, president of the team co-owned by Steve Luczo and Jay Penske, confirmed late last week it was “unlikely” the three-year-old organization would field a team in 2011.
INDYCAR has scheduled an open test at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on March 14-15 in anticipation of the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on March 27. As he updates his resume after an eight-year run at Andretti Autosport, Kanaan is uncertain he will be able to hustle-up a fulltime ride.
“Six months ago I had a job; three months ago I get another job and now I’m out of a job again,” Kanaan said during a phone interview from Brazil on SPEED Sunday night. “So I don’t know what’s certain or not. Obviously, my goal is to do a full season. And at this point I have to say time is getting pretty tight. So I’m not desperate, but the first person that comes with a reasonable offer to do a full season, I will do it.”
Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion for Andretti Green Racing, signed with de Ferran Dragon
on Dec. 20. Kanaan was released from his contract with Andretti Autosport by team-owner Michael Andretti after longtime sponsor 7-Eleven, Inc., a Dallas-based convenience store chain, announced during the waning days of the 2010 season it was withdrawing funding of the No. 11 Dallara/Honda.
Kanaan had three years remaining on a contract that reportedly paid him $3 million per year. Looking to avoid likely lengthy legal proceedings, Kanaan took a buyout and became a free-agent.
“I don’t want people to misunderstand me,” Kanaan said during a segment aired on the “Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain” talk show. “I mean, I want people to understand I want to race because I want to race. It’s not about my salary. It’s not about the money. But right now, a team that can offer me a full season will be the priority.
“I do have a couple of sponsors already in-place that I had the money for that they would go with me wherever I go. So now it’s going to be a matter of deciding this week where I’m going to land. And the priority always will (be) a team that can give me a fulltime ride.”
Kanaan tested with de Ferran Dragon Racing at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway last fall. He was offered the job and immediately cast in the role of team-builder for a fledgling organization which had fielded Brazilian Raphael Matos in the No. 2 Dallara/Honda the last two seasons, primarily with funding from Hewlett-Packard.
The team made its series debut as Luczo Dragon Racing at the 2007 Indianapolis 500 with driver Ryan Briscoe, and as a satellite operation to Penske Racing. Jay Penske is a son of open-wheel mogul Roger Penske, whose organization has won a record 15 Indy 500s. De Ferran Dragon Racing was formed last year when de Ferran, the Champ Car World Series champion in 2000-01, merged his American Le Mans Series team with Luczo and Penske.
“When Tony and I put the deal together we both knew that it had to make financial sense and we set ourselves certain targets,” de Ferran, a former Indianapolis 500 champion, told Autosport.com. “We
believed that together we were a strong proposition both on and off the track and really felt we could have become a major force in the championship in 2011 and beyond. Despite our collective best efforts, we have not been able to secure the sponsorship funds to go any further.
“Regarding the future of our team, at this point we are unclear of our plans; nevertheless it is unlikely that we will participate in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series.”
Kanaan said he was “very confident” that he and de Ferran would attract sponsorship, especially in their native Brazil. “Unfortunately, the situation around the entire world right now it’s not very good, so we came up short,” Kanaan said. “I still kept the sponsor that I had but unfortunately, Gil had to close the doors. It’s a pretty sad story.”
Round 4 of the 18-race IndyCar schedule is the Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil on May 1, last race before the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500.
De Ferran Dragon’s decision to close shop put a damper on a series of positive offseason announcements by Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, including the news last week that the season-ending race would be staged at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bernard also announced that INDYCAR would be offering a $5 million bonus to any non-series driver who won that event _ a bounty directed at a number of open-wheel drivers competing in NASCAR’s three national touring series as well as “name” competitors from other forms of motorsports.
De Ferran Dragon’s inability to land sponsorship is a troubling business sign for the series, as de Ferran, 43, was a highly-visible member of and owner’s spokesman for the ICONIC (Innovative,
Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee appointed by Bernard last spring. The seven-member panel developed and approved the engine/chassis packages announced in July 2010 and set to debut in 2012.
Dallara Automobili will supply the basic “Safety Cell” chassis, while Chevrolet and Lotus have joined longtime series partner Honda as engine-suppliers for 2012. De Ferran, who retired from IndyCar at the end of the 2003 season, was appointed Sporting Director for Honda Racing’s Formula One team in 2005. With works backing from Honda, de Ferran formed his ALMS team in 2007 by running the Acura ARX-01b in the LMP2 division. De Ferran also returned to the cockpit as lead driver, retiring after the 2009 season to pursue ownership of an IndyCar team.
In addition, de Ferran Dragon’s failure to attract a primary sponsor to even start the season illustrates the wide budget gap that still exists between series juggernauts like Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and perennial “little guys” represented by de Ferran Dragon Racing and Conquest Racing.
To further illustrate – de Ferran won the 2003 Indy 500 driving for Roger Penske, whose offseason marketing campaign secured a combination of seven corporate sponsorship extensions/additions for the cars driven by three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, Briscoe and Will Power.
Kanaan, who posted his 14th career IndyCar Series victory at Iowa Speedway on June 20, has placed no lower than sixth in the standings since the 2003 season – Andretti Green Racing’s first in the series. Kanaan competed in 2010 alongside teammates Marco Andretti, Michael Andretti’s son; Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Kanaan placed sixth in the final standings – the first driver not from either the powerful Ganassi or Penske camps.
Kanaan, who turned 36 on Dec. 31, admitted that he has been struggling in his role as networking job-seeker.
“I have to say I was pretty fortunate the last 10 years not to have to do that,” Kanaan said. “And I found myself in the office back in November trying to look for my resume…(updating) how many championships I had won. I had even misspelled one that I forgot to put in. I have to say going to a meeting with a suit and a tie – which I still don’t know how to tie a tie, so I have to ask for a couple people to help me out when I go – so it’s been different.
“I’ve learned a lot. I think I still want to race and that’s why I’m doing it. Otherwise, I’m fortunate enough to do well in my career and could be doing something else right now. But I still have that passion. I still want to win the (Indy) 500 and I still want to race. So meetings are part of my career right now instead of just working out and racing cars and spending time at the beach in Miami. So life is just different, that’s all.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment