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.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.