Kanaan ready to team up with “brothers” Franchitti and Dixon

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With his forthcoming jump to Chip Ganassi Racing now officially set, Tony Kanaan can likely look forward to at least one more shot at an IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the twilight years of his career.

But the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner is also looking forward to teaming up with good friends Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, as well as American rising star Charlie Kimball.

Franchitti and Kanaan were teammates in the early-to-mid 2000s at Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport), and together with the late Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta, created a “Four Muskeeters” sort of lineup that is still remembered for both its accomplishments on the track and a tight-knit nature off of it.

Following today’s announcement, Kanaan called Franchitti and Dixon his “brothers” but also said he looked forward to working together with everyone in the stable – and facing the pressure that’s sure to go with being part of the Ganassi organization.

“Charlie, I know he’s a young up-and-comer and this year, he’s been extremely fast. But Dario and Dixie are no-brainers – we’re good friends outside the track, and Dario was my teammate for years,” he said. “People don’t realize how close we all were before I joined this team, so while it’s a new home for me, my brothers already live there. I think it’s going to be great.

“All the eyes are going to be on us. It’s a lot of championship, a lot of Indy 500s, a lot of race wins. And I know [team owner Chip Ganassi] doesn’t expect any less from us. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Kanaan has been long been a key part of IndyCar’s core, but for the last few years, he’s still had to battle for sponsorship in the midst of a global economic downturn.

He had been vocal about his money struggles during the summer, and at one point during the season, a potential program in NASCAR was mentioned as a possibility for him. But he’ll be staying in open-wheel and driving for one of its most important and successful teams with backing from NTT Data.

“I remember that was the first question that I asked Chip: ‘What do I need to bring?,'” said Kanaan, referring to funding. “And he said, ‘Your helmet.’ And that was like a big weight off of my shoulders.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to work together to capture some of the stuff that I had, because I think it will be really a shame to my sponsors that have been with me in the hard times [if they can’t] come to an organization like this if they have the opportunity. We’re still going to work on it, but that has not been the point for me to come to work for Chip.”

“…[Finding sponsors] was a responsibility that I never wanted. But by default, I had to have it. I’m not saying I’m gonna give up [on that] and say, ‘Good,’ but the deal was not anywhere near depending on me bringing anything apart from my services.”

And thus, for the first time in several seasons, Kanaan can finally put all of his focus on the race track. One wonders what that could do for him in regards to pursuing the 2014 championship.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.