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Kanaan Chuffed About Driving Tour Of France

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 2 2017

IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan will be in the cockpit of one of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs at Le Mans later this month.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Open-wheel veteran Tony Kanaan will check another box off his racing bucket list later this month, when he participates in the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kanaan, a native of Brazil, will join American Joey Hand and Dirk Müller of Germany in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 68 Ford GT as the team looks to defend its 2016 GTE Pro Class victory. Kanaan fills a seat vacated by Sébastien Bourdais, who was seriously injured during a qualifying attempt for the 101st Indianapolis 500 on May 20.

“It’s an honor to be named a part of the Ford GT lineup for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing at the Le Mans 24,” said Kanaan, winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2015. “It’s obviously an unfortunate situation that brought us to this point with Sébastien’s injuries, but I’m going to do my best to take his place and try to help win this amazing race for the team again this year. This race has definitely been on my bucket list for a long time, so I’m thankful that Chip and our partners at Ford have given me this opportunity.”

This will mark the first time Hand and Müller will share a car with Kanaan, who won the overall title at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson in a Ford EcoBoost Prototype in 2015.

The green flag will drop for the twice-around-the-clock Le Mans classic on June 17 at

Tony Kanaan is happy to be headed for France and sports car racing’s big event. (File photo courtesy of INDCAR)

Circuit de la Sarthe. Porsche scored a shocking overall victory last June when the race-leading Toyota driven by Kazuki Nakajima broke with less than four minutes remaining. The winning No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid was shared by Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb.

Kanaan, who signed with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014, has spent significant time in the Ford GT this year. He led laps in the No. 69 Ford GT at the Rolex 24 around Daytona International Speedway, where he joined fulltime drivers Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell to finish fifth in GTLM. Kanaan spent just over seven hours, 30 minutes in the No. 69 car during the race and was the third-quickest driver in the category, behind Ganassi teammates Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe.

“We’re very pleased we are able to get a driver of Tony’s experience and talent in the No. 68 Ford GT for the Le Mans 24,” Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance, said Thursday in an announcement from Dearborn, Mich. “It’s certainly not the ideal situation and we’re heartbroken that Sébastien won’t be back to defend his race victory, since we know how much that race means to him personally. He is an important part of our family, and we look forward to him making a complete recovery.”

Ford’s victory last June was scored 50 years after its historic Le Mans triumph with the original Ford GT40 driven by New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. Mueller drove the No. 68 Ford GT to victory by more than a minute over the No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari driven by Giancarlo Fisichella.

Kanaan, 42, joins Ganassi teammate Dixon, a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner, in the Le Mans 24 Hours lineup. Kanaan won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2004. He is a 17-time race-winner in the series. Kanaan also has competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona every year since joining the team. Kanaan is INDYCAR’s all-time leader in consecutive starts with 270, dating to Portland, Ore., in 2001. Kanaan is celebrating his 20th fulltime season of racing in 2017.

Bourdais, a 38-year-old native of Le Mans, suffered multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip when his No. 18 GEICO Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing crashed into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 of IMS on the third lap of his four-lap/10-mile qualification attempt. Bourdais, who underwent successful surgery hours after the crash at IU Health Methodist Hospital, was released from that facility on May 24 and moved to a local rehabilitation facility.

Bourdais, who won the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., attended the Indy 500 on Sunday. During a pre-race news conference, Bourdais confirmed he is aiming to return to the series for the season-ender at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Sept. 17.

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Former Haas F1 Team driver Esteban Gutierrez will make his IndyCar Series debut with Dale Coyne Racing as replacement for the recuperating Sebastien Bourdais in this

Former Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez will drive in the IndyCar Series. (File photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)

weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader at Belle Isle.

“We’re going to miss having Sebastien in the No. 18 car, but we’re very happy with our choice of a replacement for him this weekend,” team-owner Dale Coyne said in a story originally reported by RACER. “Esteban has a great open-wheel racing background, especially with his time in Formula One and the GP2 Series. I think he’ll do well in an Indy car despite the learning curve and we all look forward to seeing what he’ll do this weekend in Detroit.”

Englishman James Davison replaced Bourdais in last Sunday’s 101st edition of the Indianapolis 500. Davison started last, drove to as high as third and led two laps before being eliminated in a crash on Lap 183 of 200.

Gutierrez spent the 2016 season as teammate to Frenchman Romain Grosjean at Haas F1 Team during its inaugural season in the FIA Formula One World Championship. In 59 career F1 starts, Gutierrez posted one fast lap, no podiums and a best finish of seventh. Gutierrez was replaced during the offseason on the team owned by American businessman Gene Haas by Kevin Magnussen of Denmark.

“I’m very grateful to join Dale Coyne Racing, a highly competitive team,” said Gutierrez, a 25-year-old native of Mexico. “When Dale Coyne called me, I had no doubt that this would be a great opportunity for me to get experience in the Verizon IndyCar Series. My target is to learn as quickly as possible. IndyCar is a very challenging series for drivers, but I feel ready to take this chance.

“I will do my best for Dale Coyne Racing, Honda and all the Mexican fans.”

Gutierrez has been competing in the Formula E series, where he currently ranks 18th.

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Newly crowned Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato’s victory tour touched down in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex Wednesday, where the first Japanese driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” visited “America’s Team,” aka the Dallas Cowboys.

Sato, of Andretti Autosport, outbattled three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves

Japan’s Takuma Sato met some American Cowboys this week.

of Team Penske over the final five laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win the event’s 101st edition. Sato will return with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 night race on Saturday, June 10, at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Sato has made eight career starts at TMS, with his best finish of fifth coming in the first race of the Firestone Twin 275s in 2011. Sato qualified fourth in last year’s race, which equaled his personal best in Fort Worth established in that first Twin race in 2011.

Sato, 40, is the first Indianapolis 500 winner aged 40 or older since Eddie Cheever Jr. in 1998. Al Unser Sr. holds the distinction of being the race’s oldest winner. Big Al was 47 years, 360 days old when he won the 71st Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 1987.

Sato enjoyed a private tour of the Cowboys’ practice facility at The Star in Frisco and watched practice as the team went through Organized Team Activities (OTA) on the field. Following the conclusion of practice, Sato met a number of Cowboys players, including star quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Ezekiel Elliott and tight end Jason Witten.

“I see you got the bling,” said Elliott, noticing Sato’s Indianapolis 500 champion’s ring.

Sato presented each player with a commemorative Indy 500 milk bottle signed by him. Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett was presented a racing helmet signed by the 33 starters in Sunday’s Indy 500. Prescott presented Sato with an autographed football and the team provided him with merchandise that likely won’t go over well at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“Living in Indianapolis, a friend of mine and I go to the stadium and enjoy (the Colts) sometimes, but not this much close,” Sato said. “It was a great, great experience. They are incredible athletes. We go for a lot of training but just on different levels. It’s fun to watch and respect to those athletes.”

Sato noted his victory has become a rallying point for the people of Japan. “It’s gone crazy in the correct manner, of course,” said Sato, who scored his only previous INDYCAR victory in 2013 on the Streets of Long Beach while driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. “Japan has been suffering from the tragic earthquake and tsunami since 2011. I do have my charity program (“With you Japan”) specifically helping for the children coming from the devastated areas. Certainly this kind of news is hitting big-time and assuring the support we needed.” 

Sato later headed to Ryan High School in Denton to surprise teacher Karen Guenther, a Texas Motor Speedway Speedway Club member and season ticket-holder. The high school was holding a retirement ceremony for 11 of its teachers and Guenther was among the audience of more than 200 faculty members supporting her outgoing colleagues.

Principal Vernon Reeves saved Sato for the close of the ceremony. He told the faculty he wanted to introduce a teacher who would begin next year as the new driver’s education instructor for the students. In walked Sato.

Little did Guenther, a 33-year veteran of the Denton ISD and 36th overall in education, know that she also would be honored _ although she was not among those retiring. TMS officials wanted to show their appreciation for her loyalty and for being an avid Indy car fan. Sato, who received a standing ovation from the faculty, addressed the teachers to discuss his career path as well as how important they are in molding the future leaders of our world.

Sato performed a ceremonial Indy 500 champion’s milk toast in champagne flutes with Guenther and presented her with a mini-TMS helmet he personally signed and a TMS “No Limits” backpack full of goodies.

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ABC’s live telecast of the 101st Indy 500 on Sunday earned a final 3.4 national rating, averaging 5.5-million viewers. That number is down from a 3.9/6.0-million final in 2016. But the good news for INDYCAR and Verizon IndyCar Series officials is that Takuma Sato’s victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway finished ahead of NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 later in the day.

NASCAR’s longest race of the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway finished with a 2.8 rating and averaged 4.6-million viewers, down from a 3.4/5.7-million last year. A rain delay pushed the finish the event, won by Austin Dillon, into the early morning hours. It marked the third straight year the Indy 500 has beaten the Coke 600 in ratings, although this was the widest margin between the two in 18 years. Dillon scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory for team-owner/grandfather Richard Childress.

Sunday’s Indy 500 featured Formula One star Fernando Alonso in his first oval-track race. Alonso, a two-time F1 World Driving Champion, skipped the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix to compete at Indy with Andretti Autosport. Alonso’s race ended when the engine blew in his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti-Honda with 20 laps remaining, after he had led four times for a total of 27 laps. Alonso, a 35-year-old native of Spain, officially finished 24th in the field of 33.

Meanwhile, NBC Sports reported its live, early-morning coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix averaged Total Audience Delivery (combining the NBC live telecast and digital audience) of 1.53-million viewers, up 14 percent vs. last year _ making it the most-watched live race since the group began airing F1 races in 2013. The NBC telecast scored a 0.97 rating, averaging 1.44-million viewers. Last year on NBC, the race posted numbers of 0.94/1.32-million.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 2 2017
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