Kanaan Takes First Ride For The Foyt Team

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, December 18 2017

Veteran IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan took to the track in an A.J. Foyt Racing car last week.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Tony Kanaan, the self-described “last man standing” in the Verizon IndyCar Series, has completed his first test with AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet he will drive during the 2018 season.

Kanaan, who joined Foyt’s Texas-based organization on Oct. 6, participated in the final day of testing for engine supplier Chevrolet along with Team Penske at Sebring International Raceway in Florida on Dec. 13th. The Brazilian’s first on-track experience with Foyt’s team featured some familiar faces, specifically Technical Director Eric Cowdin, who also will serve as Kanaan’s race engineer in 2018. Having worked with Kanaan during most of his on-track successes, Cowdin joined the team soon after Kanaan signed his multi-year contract.

“It was a good day and nice to be back on the track,” said Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner. “Happy with the progress and that we were able to put some good laps in. Getting the boys back working together as well as getting to know some of the guys I hadn’t worked with yet made it a good day for the ABC No. 14 team.”

The test on Sebring’s famed 3.74-mile/17-turn layout allowed Kanaan to evaluate INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aero kit supplied by Dallara. The same chassis will be run by teams from rival OEM Honda.

“The car is different, it feels a lot quicker on the straightaways, which is no surprise,” said Kanaan, the winner of 17 races during his 21-year Indy car career. “I was happy with the way it came out. It looks really cool; I like the way it looks. You just have to change your driving style a little bit but that was expected as well. It’s hard to tell, I didn’t do a lot of laps to make a solid statement but from what I’ve seen and driven, I’m happy with it.”

Team President Larry Foyt called his father/team founder in Houston to report on the outing.

“I told A.J. the test was very productive,” Larry Foyt said. “We achieved everything we came down to do. With the little time the crew had to prepare, I was impressed with the build of the car and the amount of test items we were able to get through. Tony liked the car right out of the box, so the engineers did a nice job adapting the setup to the new aero. And lastly I told him he’s going to like Tony. Tony is no nonsense and gets after it right out of the pits…A.J.’s style for sure. “

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.

Foyt Racing completed a sweep of its two-car driver lineup last month when it hired Matheus Leist to wheel the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet in 2018. Leist, 19, will team with fellow-Brazilian Kanaan, who signed with Foyt’s family-run organization after spending the last four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Kanaan will turn 43 on the last day of 2017. Kanaan and Leist have replaced American Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz of Colombia, a pair of 25-year-olds who finished underwhelming seasons in Foyt’s No. 4 and No. 14 Chevrolet-powered entries, respectively. Open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr., first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, is on-record seeking a “fresh start” for his organization based in Waller, Texas, and Speedway, Ind.

That sentiment was echoed after the test by Cowdin. “We are undertaking a very aggressive development program before the start of the season,” Cowdin said. “In the four-week period before the Christmas break we will have done four days on the driver simulator, two days of gearbox development, build a car with the new aero kit and tested it on-track. In January, we will continue with the same programs with the addition of our first 7-post test of the season to kick off our damper development. Before the first race we will have had six days of track-testing so the drivers will have put in their work as well.”

There admittedly are challenges presented by the team having two bases of operations. Kanaan’s team (along with Cowdin) will work out of the Speedway, Ind., race shop while “Matt” Leist’s team will remain based in Foyt’s headquarters outside of Houston.

“Having two locations emphasizes the need for communication,” Cowdin said. “We have to be more purposeful with our phone calls and emails so we include all the people that may need to know what we are working on. Beyond the endless emails and phone calls between the shops, we have video conference equipment in both locations which get used several times a day. It’s very often more productive to have four or five people involved in a conversation opposed to copying those people on an email chain.”

While Cowdin’s most recent experience was with Ganassi Racing’s former four-car team, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute alumnus allowed there are benefits to working with a two-car team like Foyt’s.

“Having worked on teams of all sizes, there are definite advantages to working with a smaller group,” said Cowdin, who has a Masters degree in aerospace engineering. “Each person gains experience in several different disciplines, discussions and decisions are made more efficiently and communication is easier to keep everyone on the same page. For me, the key for success with a smaller group is to have very self-motivated individuals and then give them the tools they need to do their best ,which is what we are trying to do.”

Series rookie Leist, who attended the test as an observer, later headed to Charlotte, N.C., to spend additional time in the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, N.C. Leist, who lives outside of Miami in Aventura, Fla., will get behind the wheel of his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet in the latter part of January. The race team’s Christmas holiday will extend through the New Year. 

Leist will compete in America’s premier open-wheel series after one year in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series where he won three races, two of which were sweeps. Leist won pole position and the race at two of this country’s most historic tracks _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America. As noted by A.J. Foyt, Leist’s first major victory in the United States came in the Freedom 100 at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, more notable because it was his first experience in oval track racing.

At Road America, Leist won the first race of a double-header. His third win was scored on Iowa Speedway’s short oval. The three tracks epitomize the diversity of the series _ superspeedway, road course, short oval. In four starts on the series’ two street courses (St. Petersburg, Fla., and Toronto), his best finish is fifth. Like the ovals, it was his first experience on temporary circuits.

Leist’s graduation into INDYCAR was preceded by his championship performance in the British Formula 3 Series, where he posted four victories and seven podium finishes. The championship came down to the wire, with Leist securing the title from series leader Ricky Collard in the final race. It was after winning that title in 2016 that Leist decided to pursue a career in America.

Kanaan won the Indy 500 in 2013 driving for KV Racing Technology and the 2004 series championship with Andretti Green Racing. Kanaan’s signing marked the first time “Super Tex” 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.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will kick off its 2018 season with the Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg on March 11.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, December 18 2017
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