Kanaan: The last three years have been about surviving

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If it wasn’t for an eleventh hour deal struck less than a week before the 2011 IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Tony Kanaan might not still be racing in IndyCar today, and have had the chance to capture his elusive first Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan lost his ride with Andretti Autosport – then called Andretti Green Racing – at the end of 2010 when sponsor 7-Eleven withdrew its longtime support. Since then, Kanaan has had to chase sponsorship on his own to help keep his career alive with KV Racing Technology, which is co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser (pictured with Kanaan).

“The past three years I’ve been working extremely hard, probably even harder than driving the car, to find the sponsorship to keep surviving,” Kanaan said in a press conference Monday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I’m not saying I’m not going to keep doing that.  I would like to have a little bit less pressure on my side, to just really concentrate about driving.”

Even this year, several reporters have discovered that Kanaan’s No. 11 entry – which has been backed by a consortium of sponsors including Hydroxycut, Mouser Electronics, Itaipava, N-O-XPLODE energy drink, HIPPINO.com among others – did not have the full support to continue for the rest of the season.

KV has added Imran Safiulla, longtime supporter of Simona de Silvestro, to its management team to help keep the team on track with de Silvestro’s second car. Additionally, KV has re-entered a partnership with James “Sully” Sullivan of SH Racing that first occurred in 2011, to help keep Kanaan’s car sponsored.

“I’m happy where I’m at,” Kanaan said of his status at KV, as he is in a contract year this year. “I’m confident that with this we can build something solid for the following year.  We’re so sketchy up until this race, we didn’t even know if we were going to do the entire year.  Now I’m pretty sure we will.”

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)