‘New Guy’ Kanaan Earns A Podium

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 30 2011

Simona de Silvestro gave Tony Kanaan a mirror full during the late going of Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Tony Kanaan’s debut with KV Racing Technology-Lotus on the Streets of St. Pete featured unexpected challenges from Simona de Silvestro, and a key piece of cockpit equipment.

Kanaan held off a determined, late-race charge from de Silvestro to finish third in the IZOD IndyCar Series’ season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  Kanaan’s unlikely podium finish on Sunday came less than a week after he was introduced as the veteran presence of KV Racing Technology’s three-driver lineup, and his initial shakedown laps in the No. 82 GEICO Dallara/Honda.

“That team – the whole team – was built the Monday before we went to the test, the day before,” said Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion and winner of 14 series races. “None of the mechanics had ever worked together. My mechanic and engineer walked into the shop straight from the track. I still don’t know all of the names of my crew.

“I haven’t had time to do anything this week and I’m just catching up. We are running behind every time. I mean, twice under the yellow I went to talk on the radio and I pressed my overtake (Honda overtake assist button). That tells you how unfamiliar I am with my steering wheel right now. And then I get yelled at – ‘TK, why are you using the overtake?’

” ‘Ah, just for fun.’ That’s how it’s been going on for me. I need to take a picture of the steering wheel. I am going to put it on my nightstand so I can look at it every day so I don’t make the same mistake.”

Kanaan nevertheless used his savvy and renowned fitness to hold off de Silvestro, the second-year driver of HVM Racing’s No. 78 Nuclear Clean Energy Dallara/Honda. De Silvestro ran as high as

Tony Kanaan earned a podium finish in his first race with his new team.

second to Dario Franchitti, the three-time/reigning series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, following a double-file restart on Lap 13 of the 100-lapper.

Running fourth after her final pit stop, de Silvestro rode Kanaan’s gearbox into the corners of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit but couldn’t overtake the Brazilian. Franchitti was followed across the finish line by pole-sitter Will Power of Team Penske, while Kanaan and de Silvestro settled the day’s biggest dispute.

“She was very fast,” said Kanaan, 36. “And you know, I used every bit of strength and experience I had to hold her off. I just really drove it as hard as I could and I made a mistake, three laps to go, she pulled alongside me, couldn’t make the pass.

“She did a great job. Obviously, I have not been in any single like Open Test or anything, so we are still getting familiar.  I said, ‘Who is it? Who is behind me? Who is the 78 car?’ I didn’t know who it was. And then they said that was Simona, and I remembered because she blew my doors off in the restart before. And I knew she was strong. You know, I used everything I could to be able to hold her off.”

The fourth-place finish for De Silvestro, a 22-year-old native of Switzerland, easily eclipsed her previous series best of eighth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2010. De Silvestro’s chief engineer that day was Michael Cannon, who bolted HVM Racing to join Kanaan at KVRT last week. De Silvestro, meanwhile, was introduced to new engineer Brent Harvey over lunch on Thursday.

“You know, I’m just really happy with my new engineer,” said de Silvestro, first rookie to lead laps in

Simona de Silvestro put on a show in St. Pete.

an IndyCar race since Graham Rahal did so at St. Pete in 2008. “We started working together on Friday, and to be running fourth is something pretty special.

“It’s huge. Like I said, I never thought on Friday that we would be running so well during the race. We were keeping up with the leaders, and my new engineer…communication in the beginning was pretty tough because I never worked with him. But Sunday morning it seemed like it really clicked and we really tried to figure it out. I finally had the feel for the car.

“And I think it was mostly the communication between my engineer and me that started to click. Before, he was trying to understand me, I was trying to understand him. And for me, it always has been a big part of it – for my engineer and I to have really great communication. And, Sunday morning, I thought, ‘OK, that’s what we are going to do,’ and it just kind of went in the right direction.

“It was a tough moment for the team last weekend. We were scrambling to try to find a new engineer, and I think we made the right choice. Brent Harvey is pretty awesome. When he talks to me on the radio, he’s really calming me down, so I think we’ll make a good team.”

De Silvestro, the 2010 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, also praised team-owner Keith Wiggins for his perseverance during the offseason.

“Even last year when I was racing there, we struggled towards the end to get the sponsorship together,” said de Silvestro, who signed a three-year contract extension in January. “But he worked hard and he has a great group of people on the team. They are like a big family. It’s a pretty small team but we really get along really well. And my manager, Imran Safiulla, put the whole Nuclear Clean Energy deal together. Those folks are going to be with me for the next couple of years.”

HVM won six races in the Champ Car World Series with Mario Dominguez, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Nelson Philippe and Robert Doornbos. De Silvestro certainly could make it seven this season. Next up is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10, where she ran as high as fourth last year.

“I’m really lucky; not many drivers have this opportunity,” de Silvestro said. “And with an industry like this (Nuclear Clean Energy) supporting and choosing you as a spokesperson, it’s something pretty special.”

Open-wheel veteran Tomas Scheckter will join the KV Racing Technology/SH Racing lineup for the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500. Scheckter, the 2002 Indy 500 Co-Rookie of the Year, will drive the No. 07 Team REDLINE Xtreme Dallara/Honda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29.

“I’m jacked to announce that I’ll will be driving the REDLINE Xtreme machine for the Indy 500,” said Scheckter, 30-year-old son of 1979 Formula One World Driving Champion Jody Scheckter. “I had

Tomas Scheckter is entered in the 2010 Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

been speaking with SH Racing for about six months, and when I found out they were partnered with KV Racing Technology I knew this was the complete package. I can’t wait to get plugged in with the whole KVRT/SH crew.”

The announcement was made Tuesday at IMS, where Scheckter formally presented his entry for the event making him the ceremonial first entrant into the 100th anniversary of “The Most Important Race in History.”

Scheckter will be competing in an IndyCar Series race for the 10th consecutive season and making his 10th Indy 500 start. In nine previous races at the Brickyard, Scheckter has a best qualifying position of 10th (in 2002, 2004 and 2007) and a best finish of fourth in 2003 for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He finished seventh in 2007 with Tony George’s defunct Vision Racing.

In his inaugural Indy 500 in 2002, Scheckter paced 85 laps and was leading as late as Lap 173 of the 200 lapper when an incident in Turn 4 knocked him out of the race. Scheckter, a native of South Africa, has made 115 IndyCar starts, earning 43 top-10 finishes and 18 top-fives, two wins (Michigan International Speedway in 2002 and Texas Motor Speedway in 2005) and eight poles. His best season was in 2003 when he placed fourth in the final standings for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

This deal was brokered by Jimmy Vasser, KVRT’s co-owner, and James “Sulli” Sullivan, SH Racing principal. KVRT’s fulltime series lineup features Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso.

Will Phillips has joined INDYCAR, sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, as vice president of technology.

Phillips will oversee direction and implementation of the technical rules package for the next generation of IndyCar Series car and their enforcement starting with the 2012 season. Phillips also will chair the INDYCAR Engine Committee, a group of representatives from IndyCar engine manufacturers that meet several times a year to discuss goals and emerging technologies while developing a roadmap for the future.

Phillips will report to Tony Cotman,  project manager for the 2012 car. A 47-year-old native of the United Kingdom, Phillips has extensive Indy-car and sports car engineering experience with manufacturers Reynard and March Engineering and teams including de Ferran Motorsports, PacWest Racing, Herdez Competition and Rocketsports. He most recently served as engineering director for Patron Highcroft Racing in the American Le Mans Series, which won the LMP championship in 2010.

At Reynard, Phillips was responsible for the design, development and delivery of the Reynard 02S sports car. Additionally, he contributed to chassis design and development for March’s 1989 & 90 Porsche Indy entries, the 1991 Fondmetal Formula One car and 1992 Venturi Larrouse F1 car.

As a race engineer, Phillips has worked with current IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alex Tagliani in addition to Danny Sullivan, Scott Sharp, Nigel Mansell and Teo Fabi among others.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 30 2011
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