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Kanaan Says IndyCar Needs To Face Up

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 11 2013

Driver Tony Kanaan thinks he knows what the IndyCar Series needs. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Tony Kanaan says it has remained difficult for him to judge the protocol surrounding Randy Bernard’s dismissal as INDYCAR chief executive officer last fall. But Kanaan insists he knows what the open-wheel series lacks heading into testing next month for the 2013 season.

“We need a face,” said Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion. “We’re going to need someone quick to be able to answer to a lot of the questions we have. If that guy is going to be Jeff (Belskus)…I mean, he’s the one running it right now. There’s a lot of questions from the sponsors, from the teams, from the people (wondering) what direction we’re going to take.”

Bernard was terminated on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 after a special meeting of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. Led by the Hulman-George family, the board announced that Bernard had relinquished his position effective immediately and that Belskus _Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president/CEO _ would serve as interim CEO of INDYCAR. Belskus previously served as CEO of INDYCAR from July 2009 through February 2010.

“He’s (Belskus) got a big job to run IMS and the series,” Kanaan said following an offseason test by KV Racing Technology at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. “I’ve known Jeff for a while and think he has the right mentality, but looks like the board changes their mind quite a bit.”

Bernard, who joined INDYCAR in March 2010 with no previous background in motorsports, oversaw implementation of the revolutionary 2012 Dallara DW12 chassis and the return of engine manufacturer competition among Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. The latter has since exited the series.

But Bernard also was at the center of a controversy surrounding “pack racing” at high-speed ovals like TMS and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon was fatally injured during the October 2011 season-ender. The series suffered another black eye when a scheduled street race in China was postponed by the promoter last summer, reducing the schedule from 16 to 15 events.

“I am a big Randy fan,” said Kanaan, 37, who will be entering his third season with KVRT and 12th overall in 2013. “Being president of the driver’s association I was working really close to him. But that’s beyond us. I definitely have my opinion and I support Randy all the way. Would I like to see Randy gone? No, not at all. I believe in continuity but for some reason something happened, which I don’t know. So this is my opinion _ we have a great team in the office of INDYCAR and Randy was well-liked by the fans. So whoever is going to replace him (permanently) is going to have a hard task to fill that seat. And is going to be under pressure.

“What people have to understand is whoever is going to take that job at any point at any time is always going to be on a hot seat. It’s the most difficult job. It’s a series that is growing. We have a lot of issues and in my opinion it wasn’t fair to Randy because some of the deals were already made before he came. But I trust the board and support the series. I’m one of the biggest fans of this series. If it was the right decision or wrong decision we’ll know in a few months.”

Kanaan voiced the same observation on one of Bernard’s final ideas _ Saturday-Sunday doubleheaders scheduled for the street courses at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, the Streets of Toronto as well the Reliant Park layout in Houston. Additionally, standing starts will be implemented at those three venues. The twin bills are part of the series’ expanded 19-event lineup for 2013.

“I think it’s great in certain ways (because) we have more races,” said Kanaan, referring to a schedule that has grown by four races. “But it’s sketchy in other ways, as far as being hard on the mechanics _ hard on us (drivers). These races are not easy. To do two full races in two different days is going to take a lot.

“And my question is as a fan, if I go watch the race on Saturday, why should I come back on Sunday? Or, if I’m going to go on Sunday, why should I go on Saturday? We’ll see. I haven’t heard how we’re going to qualify for pole, how we’re going to make it happen. So we need to make something exciting from one day to the other. Otherwise, I would not take my 5-year-old kid to watch exactly the same race two days in a row, you know?

“On a positive side, we’ll have a different crowd Saturday and a different crowd Sunday and we can pack the house like that. But thinking as a fan, I want a reason to come back to the track. On Saturday (in 2012) I had a reason because they were going to go qualify, and watch the Fast 6 and then I watch the race on Sunday. Now I’ve already watched a race on Saturday, am I going to come back on Sunday? I’m not real sure on that.”

Kanaan finished ninth in points after a winless 2012 featuring five top-five and eight top-10 results in his No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics Dallara/Chevrolet. In 164 IndyCar Series career starts, the native Brazilian has 11 poles, 14 wins (most recently at Iowa Speedway in 2010), 101 top-five and 128 top-10 results along with 2,928 laps-led. His title-winning season in 2004 saw Kanaan complete every lap. He will be teamed this year with Simona De Silvestro, formerly of Lotus-HVM Racing.

Takuma Sato has been signed by A.J. Foyt Racing to drive the ABC Supply No. 14 Dallara/Honda in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“There were a lot of question marks when the season ended but I’m happy to put an end to all that now,” team-owner Foyt said in a statement from Waller, Texas. “We chose to go with Takuma Sato because he brings a lot of experience to our team but he has the hunger of a rookie _ and he’s certainly proven he has the desire to win.”

Sato’s performance in last May’s Indianapolis 500 caught the attention of Foyt, first four-time winner of the event. That race ended dramatically with Sato hitting the wall while dueling eventual winner Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing on the final lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I like the fact that he (Sato) is competitive on both road-courses and ovals and that he is a charger,” Foyt said. “I think he has learned quite a bit in the short time he’s been over here and I look forward to working with him this year.”

Sato is entering his fourth year of IndyCar Series competition. During the past three years, he won pole positions on the Iowa Speedway oval and Edmonton’s airport circuit (in 2011), claimed five top-fives and 13 top-10s in a total of 49 starts. His career-best finish is second at Edmonton last year after starting third.

“I’m extremely excited to be a part of A.J. Foyt Racing and working with ABC Supply for the 2013 season,” said Sato, 35. “I have seen the potential of the team last year on a number of occasions. I think the team has one of the best engineering staffs in the paddock led by Don Halliday. I can’t wait to start testing next month.

“While I do not know A.J. well yet, it is unbelievable what he did in his career. A.J. has achieved so many wins in every type of car, at every type of circuit, and in every type of situation. That experience can only help in trying to win races this year. I think with A.J. and the team helping me this year, we can be very successful.”

A native of Tokyo, Japan, Sato came to the IndyCar Series following a career in Formula One from 2002-2008. In 2004, while driving for the British American Racing/Honda team, Sato finished on the podium in the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis and placed eighth in the final standings. His performance contributed to BAR/Honda finishing as runnerup to Scuderia Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.

Sato replaces Englishman Mike Conway, who finished 20th in points last year while competing in 14 of 15 events. Conway opted to not drive in the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., citing safety concerns.

Foyt and son Larry, the team director, also tested American Conor Daly on the 1.65-mile Sebring International Raceway road-course on Dec. 13. Daly is the son of former Formula One and IndyCar driver Derek Daly.

Daly, who won a Firestone Indy Lights race at Long Beach, Calif., in 2011, competed in GP3 the past two seasons after winning the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear (seven victories in 12 races). Daly, 21, is seeking sponsorship to continue his move up the open-wheel ladder.

Trevor Knowles, engine development director of the IZOD IndyCar Series, will visit Honda Performance Development in California and Chevrolet partner Ilmor Engineering in the United Kingdom over the next 10 days to oversee the second year of engine homologation.

In this case, homologation refers to the sealing of mandated components for the 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines that will be supplied by both manufacturers in 2013. The homologation deadline is nine weeks before the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on March 24.

“The standard parts as determined under the engine technical regulations established before the 2012 season are still in there,” Knowles said. “With direct-injection (as well as E85 fuel) being new for 2012, the fuel system can be changed on a yearly basis in light of what they find out in the first couple of years of competition and then it goes onto a two-year cycle. The fuel system, which is everything wetted by the fuel from the tank where the fuel meets the air (injectors, fuel pumps, fuel rails), can be revised and re-homologated.”

Also, the connecting rod (crankshaft to piston) and exhaust system can be re-homologated on a yearly basis. Changes are usually made to increase reliability.

Manufacturers have mandated specifications, but there are open areas that they will continue to pursue. According to the engine technical regulations, manufacturers also can request changes to engine components and McLaren software alterations if a certain part is breaking; there is an operation whereby they could eliminate to reduce costs, or change suppliers that would lead to changes in how the component is made. Information would be shared with INDYCAR and the other manufacturers.

Engine competition returned to the IndyCar Series in 2012 after a six-year absence. Honda had been the sole supplier in the intervening years with its V-8. Chevrolet earned the 2012 manufacturer title and powered American Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport to the driver’s championship.

Development based on data and on-track testing was ongoing during autumn of the offseason. Three Chevrolet teams are scheduled to kick-off the new year of on-track testing on Monday, Jan. 14, at Sebring International Raceway. The fuel system remains homologated unless it relates to reliability.

“If it’s a reliability issue, the manufacturer can use our procedure, which is submit a request and description with why and what,” Knowles said. “We circulate it, get feedback and then provide an answer or ask for more information. The reliability/durability fixes granted this past season, copies of that will go into a box and be homologated (Friday) Jan. 18.”

Additionally, at the discretion of INDYCAR, a manufacturer whose engines are statistically four percent deficient in power may make improvements at midseason or the end of the season to put it two percent below the best engine. The deficit was 2.5 percent in 2012. Alterations will be introduced only on new engines being sent to the track.

Manufacturers must present data to support their case, which is reviewed along with relevant data collected by the sanctioning body’s engine support engineers. Manufacturers provide which components they seek to modify, along with projected gains and their scheduled introduction. There are two windows _ midseason and end of season.

“There was a general feeling that two percent was too close and it would make it too easy for someone that was slightly down on power to make a change to overtake the other,” Knowles said. “The gap is bigger before it can trigger any performance boost.”

The engine rules are stable through the 2016 IndyCar Series season, with any corrections or modifications decided by INDYCAR after consultation with its engine committee.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 11 2013
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