Kanaan gearing up for Ganassi switch, first test

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There’s only been a couple weeks since the 2013 IndyCar season ended, and already preparations are well underway for the first round of offseason testing.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, with his KV Racing Technology stint over, can now properly look ahead to his new ride with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It’s a huge opportunity for me, to join the team that just won the championship,” he said at the Borg-Warner display at the SEMA Show on Tuesday. “It’s quite remarkable to be able to go there at this stage in my career.”

Kanaan confirmed his longtime engineer, Eric Cowdin, will make the move with him to Ganassi but doesn’t know how many of the rest of his “band” of crewmembers can switch as well. In Kanaan’s words, “not my department.”

It seems weird to fathom that in this, the 16th season of his illustrious open-wheel career dating to 1998, that Kanaan had his highest one-race high (Indy) but a career-low in the championship, since he switched from CART to the then-Indy Racing League in 2003. Since his switch, Kanaan had not finished outside the top 10 in points and ninth last year had been his previous worst. He ended 11th in 2013.

“Yeah we really had a lot of ups and downs,” he explained. “The championship result was my worst ever, and that tells you how much we focused on the oval races to win the 500. We went that route and it worked. We set a goal, because we knew we couldn’t compete for the championship with our budget and all that stuff. We won the race that we needed to.”

Of the competition level, Kanaan says it continues to get “deeper and deeper,” and you never know how much deeper it will get.

He does enter 2014 with the peace of mind of not needing to pursue a budget to make the CGR opportunity happen, as he had to do each of the past three years with KV. NTT Data will back his entry.

“Yeah that helps a lot,” he said. “It takes a big weight off my shoulders. I can just worry about winning and racing, and I’m relieved because of that.”

Kanaan’s first test is December 4 at Sebring. He’s optimistic he’ll be in one of the two CGR Riley Ford Daytona Prototypes at the opening round of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

He’ll also have the built-in advantage of having raced Chevrolet twin-turbocharged IndyCar engine before. That will be new to his teammates, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball, at their first tests.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.