AJ Foyt Lands An Oldy But Goody In Kanaan

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 6 2017

Tony Kanaan is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing and will drive the famed No. 14 Indy car of AJ Foyt next season. (File photo courtesy of INDCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Tony Kanaan, the self-described “last man standing” in the Verizon IndyCar Series, has joined AJ Foyt Racing as driver of the team’s famed No. 14 entry beginning with the 2018 season.

Kanaan, who will turn 43 on the last day of 2017, has signed a multi-year contract with the team fronted by four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt Jr. Kanaan, who celebrated his 20th season in Indy car competition in 2017, won the Indy 500 in 2013 driving for KV Racing Technology and the 2004 series championship with Andretti Green Racing.

The deal marks the first time “Super Tex” has hired an existing Indy 500 champion for a full season drive other than himself. Foyt owned the team when he won his third and fourth Indianapolis 500s in 1967 and 1977, respectively.

“We’ve talked to Tony for the last couple of years and I’m just glad we were able to put something together because I know he wants to win as bad as we do,” Foyt said during a teleconference Thursday in Indianapolis. “I think he still has two or three good years in him. He’s always been a hard-charger and I like somebody who wants to charge hard.”

Kanaan, who spent the last four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing as teammate to four-time series champion Scott Dixon, will be reunited with Technical Director Eric Cowdin. Kanaan and Cowdin collaborated on a number of significant achievements in the Brazilian’s career, including his Indy 500 victory, 2004 series title and 15 of his 17 victories.

Cowdin, whose resume includes stints with Chip Ganassi Racing, KV Racing Technology, Team Penske and Andretti Green Racing, also will serve as race engineer on the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity for me to build something where we can make history, and for me that’s what racing’s all about,” said Kanaan, the “Ironman” of Indy car racing based upon his record 282 consecutive starts dating to 2001.“Yes it is about the wins, but it’s also about the people, the people that you’re associated with. We’re going to make some history.”

Additionally, marketing partner ABC Supply Co., Inc. _ whose contract with the team was up for renewal next year _ has extended its partnership with the team in a multi-year deal.

“We’re big fans of Tony and are excited to have him on our team,” said Keith Rozolis, CEO/president of ABC Supply, America’s largest wholesale distributor of exterior building products. “We are looking forward to next season.” The 2018 campaign will be season No. 14 for ABC Supply as the team’s primary sponsor; the association is the longest-running one between team and sponsor in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Kanaan, a resident of Miami who plans to spend most of his time in Indianapolis during the racing season, recognizes the challenges ahead. “My biggest challenge will be getting to know everybody and really make everybody work for one goal, which is go win the race. But at the same time, over the weekend we need to remember why we’re there, why we’re sacrificing everything we have to be there, and have some fun. That’s really important as well. And I can tell you when you’re not winning, you’re not having fun, so we’ve got to win.”

Foyt fielded a two-car team in 2017 with 25-year-old Carlos Munoz of Colombia driving the No. 14 car and American Conor Daly, also 25, wheeling the No. 4.

“Yeah, really with the second car, we haven’t made any decisions yet,” said Larry Foyt, team president and A.J.’s son. “We’re going through everything internally and trying to figure out what direction to go there. We’ve really been focused on getting this deal done with Tony and some of the big engineering pieces here in the team put together, and from there we’re just having internal discussions and probably won’t be too long, we’ll try to come to a decision with that. Don’t really have an answer on where that’s headed just yet.”

For the first time since 1966, the No. 14 car will be operated out of a location other than Texas as it will move to Foyt’s Indianapolis race shop. The No. 4 car now will be based in the Waller, Texas, shop.

Larry Foyt, a graduate of TCU in Fort Worth, said Kanaan’s experience was a key factor in the hire considering the series will debut a universal aero kit next season.

“I’m thrilled to have Tony joining the team,” Larry Foyt said. “We have known he would be a great fit for our team and our sponsors, and I’m glad the deal came together. Tony wants to win, and we want to win. I know he and I will be pushing each other to get the best results we can. With the new aero kit, I feel Tony’s experience in many different iterations of Indy cars will be a great asset as we prepare and test for the upcoming season.”

Cowdin earned his degrees in aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (B.S. in 1991) and Virginia Tech (Masters in 1993). “I’m looking forward to continuing my long relationship with TK and reuniting with the folks at Chevy,” Cowdin said. “We have a big challenge ahead of us with the new universal aero kit and I can’t wait to get started.”

Kanaan openly has expressed his desire to drive for the first four-time Indy 500 champion in the past. “As a driver, you want to be on a team that works around you, that will build the stuff around you and for you,” Kanaan said. “But also, if I can have a person like A.J. to help me, even at this point of my career, it’s awesome. He’s a legend in many ways in my book.

“I’m 42 and I keep hearing that I’m getting old, but I know a guy who retired when he was 58! That gives me a lot of hope.”


An edited transcript of Thursday’s teleconference follows:

MODERATOR: A.J., your team has competed against Tony Kanaan in Indy car for at least the last 15 years. What made him the pick for the No. 14 car for 2018?

A.J. FOYT: “Well, obviously, you know, I’ve always had the No. 14. I think Tony can put it up there where the 14 is used to running, that’s first, so I think he can do that _ I don’t say easy, but I know he can do it.”

MODERATOR: Larry, in the press conference earlier today, you said that you’ve had discussions with Tony in the past about coming over to the team. How did it finally all come about for 2018?

LARRY FOYT: “Well, I think it just…both of us were at a position where we could make it happen, and so that’s really what it came down to. We both knew each other and had talked and had said if the time ever came available that we could do something together that we would look at it seriously. So that’s really what happened, and I think everybody was just ready for a new challenge, and that’s what it was.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we felt like together we could really put something together and start winning again, so that’s what brought it together.”

MODERATOR: Tony, joining a legendary name like Foyt, getting back with your friends at Team Chevy, which you took to the Indy 500 win, how excited are you for the 2018 season?

TONY KANAAN: “Very excited. Obviously, we know we have a lot of work to do to build the team to where we want it to be. I mean, I’m coming off of a very difficult season, so I think it was a time for us to get together here with…I’m bringing my engineer, Eric Cowdin, which was part of the win with the 500 Chevy, and we’re excited.

“It’s a great time for me. I think driving for a legend like A.J. and all the stories and what I can learn from him still, it will be something that I’m going to take it for the rest of my life. So I’m really excited about it. Hopefully we’ll put that No. 14 car where AJ wants me to put it, which is going to be in first place.”

MODERATOR: Tony, you’ve driven the No. 11, which was associated with you, you’ve driven a famous No. 10. What about driving the No. 14? Is there any extra pressure just because it’s the No. 14 and you drive for Foyt?

TONY KANAAN: “Big-time. I mean, I think out of all the numbers that I’ve driven through my career, that is definitely the one that puts a lot more pressure on me, so I’m going to have to make sure that I keep up the tradition of that number and hopefully we will do that. But we’ll definitely _ I was thinking about that the other day. I mean, I can’t wait for opening day at the 500 and put the No. 14 car to do a lap like that, especially me driving. Having garage No. 1 for me, it’s like _it’s kind of cool.

“It’s one of those things that I’ve always looked around and said, ‘A.J. can do this here, A.J. can do that.’ He basically owns the Speedway, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep the No. 14 where it belongs.”

QUESTION:  How do you feel the team will respond to your style of driving and what you’ve brought to the series all these past 15, 20 years?

TONY KANAAN: “Well, I think the cars are changing, so how the team is going to respond to that is basically what we’re going to build. Bringing my engineer in, I think it’s a big help because he knows the way I like to drive. He knows the way I like to set up the car. So I would say for me, it’s a big step. We can come in and try to introduce my driving style. Obviously, we don’t know how the new car is going to perform. We’ve still got to go test and see how is it going to behave, so everyone is pretty much starting from scratch.”

QUESTION: We also heard recently that your great friend Helio Castroneves of Team Penske won’t be on the circuit fulltime, just the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s two events. How is that going to feel without Helio in the field?

TONY KANAAN: “Well, he’s definitely going to be missed. I think he was a big name in IndyCar, like I am. We started together back in ’98, so obviously he chose to pursue another career (sports car racing), go to another series, so I wish him the best. And I think, like I said, he will be missed.”

QUESTION:  It’s been a long time since we have seen you in Victory Lane, and Team Foyt hasn’t been too successful. How are you planning to bring victories to another team with new aero kit, new teammates and everything?

TONY KANAAN: “I think that’s why we got together. We both needed a change. We both needed some boosts to put this team in Victory Lane, and we’re doing everything we can. We have just a great sponsor backing us with ABC that’s been with the team for 14 years, and they’re giving us every tool that they can to be able to make it happen.

“I think with the new car, like everybody starting from scratch, I think that’s our chance. It’s our chance to get ahead of the game with all the resources that we have and the people that we have working for us, and to put it back there. We both need it to go back to Victory Lane, and that’s why there’s a reason that we actually came together with this partnership to be able to do it.”

QUESTION: Tony, you’re basically kind of the last man standing from the CART era, you and Helio were. Is there any point where it makes you look back and go, Wow? It’s an interesting feeling, I would guess, being the longest-tenured driver in the IndyCar Series…

TONY KANAAN: “Yeah, I guess the only good people are the only ones that last, and I guess I’m the last man standing, so I’m pretty proud of my career. Of course if I would go back 20 years ago and would have said that I was going to be here for this long, I don’t think I could predict that. But obviously year-in, year-out, people keep saying, ‘The old guys here and there.’

“But we keep delivering, so I think it doesn’t matter what age you are. If you’re winning races, I don’t think people care. All we care is about winning. I still think I can win, and I’m glad that I’m still around so we can keep the tradition of the old-timers, that we can still do it. We’ll be here to represent.”

QUESTION:  Larry, I hear the enthusiasm from listening to Tony; what kind of different dynamic do you feel like he’s going to bring to the team, maybe a different sort of energy from the past?

LARRY FOYT: “Well, he’s got a lot of experiences, which is going to really pay with this new aero kit and figuring that out quickly. But the one thing I think Tony and I when we started talking about this, we looked at each other, and it’s a lot of trust between each other. I had to know Tony is not just trying to ride-out his last years, that he’s going to give 110 percent and wants to know that we’re going to put all our resources into the race team to give him a chance to win. That’s exactly the trust that we had. I think when we looked each other in the eye, we both knew that this was what we wanted to do and our goals were aligned, and that’s why we think it’s going to work.”

QUESTION: How important was Tony’s great oval success being part of this decision?

LARRY FOYT: “You know, yeah, of course it’s wonderful to have an Indy 500 champion on your team and someone who came close to winning a couple oval races this year. I think he leads every one of them. That’s a big part, especially from our history, and the importance we hold to Indianapolis and the 500.

But you know, we want Tony because he can and (does) win everywhere, so that’s the most important thing. And I think for us, just his experience of being on some bigger teams and what he can bring and just help _ and his enthusiasm is infectious in getting all of us motivated, and I think he’s going to be great with our sponsor, with ABC Supply. They do this for their people and bring hundreds of people to every event, and I think that’s something Tony is going to be great with, as well. It’s just a great package all the way around.”

QUESTION: Tony, you’re switching from Honda to Chevy; how are you taking that difference, and how do you plan to adapt to the new car?

TONY KANAAN: “Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to tell. Obviously when I won the 500 in 2013, it was with Chevy, then we switched engines. You know, I think Chevy has over the past years caught up to the Hondas, especially at the Speedway, so we strongly believe that we’re going to be extremely competitive. Of course I have some feedback probably to add and try to help them out with some of my experience. The plan will be just to really…I’ve got to drive the car to be able to tell you something more, but right now I think we have a pretty good package.”

QUESTION: With this new package that’s coming out, it’s going to be a little freer, a little bit looser. I What have you heard from the drivers who have test-driven the package? Did you get any insights?

TONY KANAAN: “No, I heard that the car has a lot less downforce, it’s a little bit more sketchy and difficult to drive, which I think that’s a good thing. It’s going to make more difficult to the drivers. It’s going to make a lot more challenging for the engineers. I heard the same things, that it’s definitely a huge amount of downforce taken out of the car, and it’s going to be a little bit more difficult to drive.”

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to that? Is it like getting back into CART?

TONY KANAAN: “We like it. You should be able to drive the car. You cannot just…engineers should be able to help you but they shouldn’t dictate who’s qualifying or winning races. Anytime you have to drive the car more, I’d be all for it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 6 2017
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