Kanaan Joins Ganassi IndyCar ‘Dream Team’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 24 2020

Tony Kanaan and team owner Chip Ganassi are getting back together in IndyCar.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Tony Kanaan is returning to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021 with Chip Ganassi Racing via a multi-year deal fit for the aged.

Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 series champion, will share CGR’s No. 48 Honda with INDYCAR rookie/seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson in a pairing of super-fit-and-fast 45-year-olds. Kanaan will compete in the series’ four oval-track races, including the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500, while Johnson will run the series’ 13 road/street-course events.

“I told Chip I’ll win four races for him next year, if that was good enough,” Kanaan joked during a ZOOM conference with national media on Monday. “He said, ‘That’s totally fine.’ So yes. Yeah, the 500 would be the priority for sure.” Kanaan’s deal also includes the oval events in 2022.

A 17-time INDYCAR race-winner, Kanaan will contest the doubleheader weekend on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth on May 1-2; the Indy 500 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30 and Worldwide Technology Raceway’s 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Ill., on Aug. 21.

Primary sponsorship will be provided by longtime Kanaan-backers NTT DATA and Bryant. Both sponsors will have primary paint schemes as well as associate-level relationships on the No. 48 Honda and other CGR entries.

Jimmie Johnson has an old new teammate in Tony Kanaan. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

“I woke up this morning, I feel extremely lucky, man,” said Kanaan, a native of Brazil living in Miami. “I’m going to go back to a team with my best friend Dario Franchitti, my other best friend Scott Dixon and now Jimmie. How cool is that to write a story afterwards when it’s all over? I feel blessed. I can’t thank everybody enough for pulling all this effort together, my family, my wife (Lauren). She kind of knew that I wasn’t giving up. I guess she’s OK to put up with me for another couple years like that.”

Kanaan previously drove for CGR from 2014-2017, scoring a victory on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in the 2014 season-finale. In addition to Johnson, Kanaan will race alongside Dixon, the six-time/reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion, Marcus Ericsson and CGR newcomer Alex Palou.

“As the INDYCAR driver market trends younger and younger, experience is something that cannot be taught _ especially at the Indianapolis 500,” team-owner Ganassi said in a statement. “There is no one more experienced in the paddock than Tony, and when we needed the right fit for rounding-out our oval program, it was clear he was the right choice.

“We are very familiar with NTT DATA and Bryant over the years and are excited to have both companies back with this program. Tony also knows our team, he knows our system and he knows our drivers. We expect the combination of him and Jimmie to give us the one-two punch we’re looking for in the No. 48.”

Kanaan said Johnson, who exited Hendrick Motorsports with 83 career wins during his 20-year Cup career, recently called him suggesting they find a way team-up in INDYCAR.

“Yeah, Jimmie just said, ‘Let’s make a dream team and let’s make history together,’^” said Kanaan, adding he and Johnson include triathlons in their training regimens. “We’re two 45-year-old guys that some people believe we can do it but a lot of people believe we can’t, so let’s prove them wrong. He didn’t have to say much, man.

Tony Kanaän is coming back for more in the IndyCar Series.

“How often do you see somebody like Jimmie trying to…I guess it’s just one of those things in life that happens once in a lifetime.”

Kanaan spent the last three seasons driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, including an oval-only/five-race 2020 season dubbed #TKLastLap. A perennial fan favorite, Kanaan said he missed the interaction with fans during a 2020 season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yeah, I mean, I would say probably if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t probably have changed my mind,” said Kanaan, who added he discussed 2021 options with Larry Foyt, the president of A.J. Foyt Racing, and INDYCAR owner/driver Ed Carpenter. “There were some talks about doing the 500 and on and off and this and that, but I wasn’t clear.

“I mean, yeah, do I want to win the 500? 100 percent. Am I in the best place to do so? 100 percent now. Those are the details. But the sole decision to come back from Day One was because it wasn’t fair for the fans. Never in a million years did I thought I would come back for two more times, which became a pleasant surprise because then I give myself another caution that if it’s not sort of a normal year next year then I have hopefully for sure a normal year in 2022. But that was the only reason really.

“To be honest, come back, having an opportunity like this in the last two years of my career, it’s something that I’m not taking for granted. I mean, I talked to Chip (Sunday) night and we have one goal. It’s to make this team win the 500. Chip just told me, ‘I added another big chance to do so with you,’ and that’s my role, and that’s what I’m here for.”

Kanaan began his domestic open-wheel career in the Championship Auto Racing Teams with Tasman Motorsports in 1998. He has compiled 383 starts with 17 wins, 15 poles, 78 podiums and over 4,000 laps-led. Kanaan won the 2004 NTT IndyCar Series championship driving for Andretti Green Racing, completing all 3,305 laps while leading 889 laps. Kanaan won the 2013 Indy 500 with KV Racing Technology.

“TK” remains the all-time leader in consecutive NTT IndyCar Series starts with 318, dating to the race at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway in 2001 through the 2020 season-opener at TMS in June.

“I feel very humbled that I have these eight races in the next two years to do it,” Kanaan said. “I don’t think commitment is a problem with me. I think I’m in shape, and I’m ready to do so. Arguably some people said my best results came on the ovals, so let’s please the people that think that and let’s go win another 500.”

Kanaan said he is fully aware that driving a competitive car with CGR comes wrapped with added pressure to put up numbers.

“My entire career was racing under pressure, and I think I perform better when I’m under pressure,” Kanaan said. “It adds a lot to it. The enjoyment, it’s always going to be there. Once you’re driving a race car, in my opinion, you always enjoy it but you enjoy it even more when you’re winning. And you add the pressure to it, I think it’s…for me it’s the best combination. Chip is in the business to win races. That’s all he cares. I mean, and he won’t save you if he has something to tell you.

“To me it’s a great problem to have, that butterfly in your stomach from now on. It’s like _ wow, now I have to do it. I have some tough teammates there that I’m going to have to be on top of my game because the team is going to give me everything I need with no excuses to win races. Been there before a few times, and I think it’s totally manageable.

“I got a second chance to redeem myself and give Chip another 500 win, and hopefully I will do that, work with my teammates to make the team stronger, as well. And if I can win…again, I keep saying it’s probably one of the best opportunities of my career. It’s the best opportunity for me to leave this series, because I am telling you this time for sure in two years I will not be racing when I’m 50, but I said that two years ago. To leave on a high note, that would be great. I will do everything I can to do it.”

NTT DATA will return as primary sponsor on the No. 10 Honda at multiple events for the 17-race season in 2021. Palou, a 23-year-old Spaniard who has replaced Felix Rosenqvist, finished as runnerup for Rookie-of-the-Year honors this past season driving for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh.

NTT DATA also returns as season-long associate sponsor on Dixon’s No. 9 Honda. Dixon, 40, posted four wins en route to the 2020 championship, one shy of the all-time record of seven held by Foyt. The four victories pushed Dixon’s career total to 50, which trails only Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52) and includes the Indy 500 in 2008. NTT DATA has been an associate sponsor on Dixon’s car since 2017.

NTT DATA will be primary sponsor for Johnson when he competes in the Honda Indy Toronto street race on July 11. The event will mark the only race outside of the United States on the 2021 schedule.

Kanaan will have NTT DATA as a primary sponsor for the Aug. 21 race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis, and as an associate sponsor for the other three oval events, including the Indy 500.


Final 2020 NTT IndyCar Series point standings _ 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 537; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 521; 3, Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, 421; 4, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 416; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 396; 6, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 377; 7, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 348; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 339; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 317; 10, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 315.



Sunday, March 7 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sunday, April 11 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.

Sunday, April 18 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif.

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn.

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill.

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif.


Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 4 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course 1 (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 11 _ Road America Race 1, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 12 _ Road America Race 2, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Friday, July 17 _Iowa Speedway Race 1, Newton (Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske)

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa Speedway Race 2, Newton (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 23 _ Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 29 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 1, Madison, Ill. (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, Aug. 30 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 2, Madison, Ill. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Saturday, Sept. 12 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Race 1, Lexington, Ohio (Will Power, Team Penske)

Sunday, Sept. 13 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Race 2, Lexington, Ohio (Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport)

Friday, Oct. 2 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 1 (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Saturday, Oct. 3 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 2 (Will Power, Team Penske)

Sunday, Oct. 25 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 24 2020
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