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Kanaan Ironing Out The Details Of His Future

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 30 2013

Tony Kanaan and his team owner are hoping to keep the band together.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

With his 212th consecutive start on Sunday, Tony Kanaan officially will take his place as “Ironman” of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Coincidentally, the guy Kanaan will replace is working to make sure that Ripkenesque streak continues.

“I know there’s a lot of speculation out there about Tony’s status with KV, his status for 2014,” said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology and the open-wheel consecutive start record-holder at 211 races. “But we’re flat-out working right now to finalize our sponsorship package to be able to present Tony with some sort of an offer during that break time before Houston.

“It’s fully our intention to keep the band together, so to say, the great team that Tony has helped put around him. I know there may be other opportunities for Tony, but we hope to keep him at KV.”

The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, Kanaan is in the last year of a two-year contract with Vasser and partner Kevin Kalkhoven. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion with Andretti Green Racing, Kanaan recorded his 211th consecutive start at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway last Sunday. Kanaan’s streak, which dates to the 2001 Championship Auto Racing Teams event in Portland, Ore., will peak with the Grand Prix of Baltimore – home to Major League Baseball Ironman Cal Ripken, formerly of the Orioles.

“Obviously, it’s a great achievement,” Kanaan said of his streak. “It obviously proves that I’ve been around for a long time, that’s for sure. But it’s a remarkable achievement. I didn’t want to be beating one of my best friends in life and nowadays my boss, Jimmy. But I guess I get to brag about that. I guess I can’t brag as much until I get to Sunday’s race, because Jimmy has the power not to let me start this race if he wants to.”

Vasser, the 1996 CART champion with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said he was honored to step aside for TK. “He’s the right guy,” Vasser said during a national teleconference. “He’s been able to, one, not get hurt too often. I think his streak would have been longer; he missed some races when he broke his wrist in Detroit.

“My first couple years in Indy car, we didn’t do full seasons. So these are consecutive starts. It just means primarily you’re able to keep a job for that many years, which is hard to do. That’s a tough feat in itself. He’s been driving through injuries, not only this year, but many times through the course of this streak. There’s nobody else better.

“Kind of ironic that he’s in the team and driving for us. I think it’s a pretty cool thing. And we’re doing it in Baltimore, where the real Ironman, Cal Ripken, really built the house. It’s all pretty cool.”

Kanaan recalled that his streak nearly ended in 2009, after he crashed-out of the Indianapolis 500. “The next weekend was Milwaukee,” said Kanaan, referring to The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis. “I was hurting. I had two broken ribs. I actually could barely walk to the car. That was the closest I got not to race. The one that I shouldn’t have raced actually . . . I had a concussion in Detroit, which I stayed out. That’s when the streak started out after in Portland. That concussion, back in the day, the technology and all the resources we have was not as accurate. I still think I wasn’t right the week after that I went to Portland. I started the race, but I crashed three corners later and took (Alex) Zanardi out with me, my teammate. I think that was the closest one.”

Kanaan’s emotional Indy 500 victory on May 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the 16th of a career that was launched in CART on March 15, 1998 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The win remains the seminal moment for KVRT, the Indianapolis-based team formed in 2003 as PK Racing. Vasser joined with Kalkhoven in 2004 to form PKV Racing and the organization moved to the IndyCar Series in 2008 as KV Racing Technology.

“Quite honestly, winning the Indy 500 was great. We’ve come close a few times,” said Vasser, whose list of past drivers includes Cristiano da Matta, Max Papis, Paul Tracy and Will Power. “I don’t know how you feel, Tony, but we probably haven’t had the success that we really want or maybe deserved. I would have to say that maybe Tony in coming to the team has brought in a lot of great talent, surrounded himself with great people. We helped facilitate that bringing them into the team and Tony helped orchestrate that. I think we’re still in a building mode. We need to be better.”

Kanaan, who spent eight seasons with Andretti Green Racing/Andretti Autosport, is well-aware of where KVRT stands in the IndyCar team pecking order.

“I think obviously you see teams have been established, like the big teams, they’ve been around forever,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Hydroxy Cut KV Racing Technology-SH Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “KV is a fairly new team, although we’ve been around for a long time, Jimmy, and Kevin before the unification. We’re a fairly young team.

“I agree totally with Jimmy, we have not accomplished what we have hoped for. Thank God we think like that because if you’re happy winning one race and having four or five podiums a year, that’s not the right mentality to go racing. We’re working extremely hard to build that. That takes time and sponsorship. Everybody knows the situation we faced three years ago. It’s been a building process. We’re still growing.

“One good thing, at this time last year I looked at Jimmy and said, ‘Obviously we have a few years ahead of us until we become the team that we want to become, but let’s focus on it.’ Jimmy says, ‘I think we need to focus on the 500.’ We did that. We started working on the 500 in September of last year with a lot of things that we’ve done, not just in the shop, with the race car and everything. Obviously it paid off. Now we look at each other and say, ‘OK, we need to work for 17 races and win a championship.’^”

That will require continued corporate dollars, a task Kanaan will pursue after this historic weekend. The race will be televised live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by NBC Sports Network and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smart phones and tablets. The IndyCar Series then will remain idle until the doubleheader weekend at Reliant Park in Houston Oct. 5-6.

“It’s been a challenge for me and Jimmy since Day One,” said Kanaan, teamed this year with Simona De Silvestro. “You know, every year we face some of the sponsors that we have are very loyal and some of them are new, people that we brought into the sport. But it’s always negotiations. My take on it, this is the new era. You have to put yourself out there and try to sell the product.

“But for me, nothing has changed from last year. The only thing is we had a two-year deal on the table, so I knew at this point last year that I had one more year. We obviously are on the championship run every day since I got to KV three years ago. The more sponsorship you bring, the more resources you can hire, the better things you can have for the team.

“For me, it’s another day in the office. I have to go to Brazil to talk to some of my sponsors. Although I don’t like the break, I think it’s too long, but now is the time that people make the decisions. So I’m going to use my time to try to make things happen for us to move along for next year. “

Englishman Stefan Wilson has spent much of the season as one of the drivers giving VIP rides in a Honda Civic Si safety car. This weekend, Wilson will make his IZOD IndyCar Series debut sans passenger.

Wilson will drive the Honda-powered No. 18 Nirvana Tea Dallara for Dale Coyne Racing during the 75-lap event. A Firestone Indy Lights race-winner, 23-year-old Stefan will be a teammate to his brother, Justin, who drives the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda. It will mark the first time brothers will compete as teammates in the IndyCar Series. Mike and Robbie Groff competed at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1998 but not on the same team.

“I’ve been trying to do everything I can to prepare,” Stefan Wilson said. “It’s kind of going to be thrown into the deep end without any armbands. I’ve been studying data and video from Justin’s race last year. It’s going to be a tough weekend to get up to speed, but the main thing I’m concentrating on is having a clean weekend and an opportunity to get experience for next year.”

Stefan competed on the Baltimore layout in 2011, finishing fifth in an Andretti Autosport-prepared car en route to third in the championship. He moved to open-wheel cars in 2007 in the Formula Palmer Audi Series, earning four wins and four poles on the way to being championship runnerup.

Oriol Servia will finish-out the 2013 IndyCar Series season driving the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet, beginning with the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Servia will make his ninth start of the season for Indianapolis-based Panther.

Servia, who finished 14th in his most recent start at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 4, has finished second and seventh in the two races on the 2.04-mile, 12-turn Charm City street circuit. He advanced 12 positions in 2011 for a season-high runnerup finish and moved nine positions relative to his starting spot last September. Servia’s best finish this season has been fourth at Sao Paulo in Brazil on May 5.
Servia takes over for Ryan Briscoe, who will be competing for Level 5 Motorsports in Saturday’s American Le Mans Series race on the track. Briscoe finished 17th in the No. 4 entry last Sunday in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 30 2013
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