Ganassi inks multi-year deal with longtime sponsor of Kanaan

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Brazilian energy drink TNT will back Indianapolis 500 champion and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan in a multi-year agreement, the team announced today.

Kanaan has maintained a partnership for several seasons with the drink, which currently serves as one of the top-selling brands of its kind in his home country.

The new pact comes more than one month after Kanaan announced during the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend that he would drive a fourth Ganassi car starting in 2014 with main sponsorship from NTT Data. TNT will be associated with that car, the No. 8 Chevrolet.

“TNT first came on-board with me at the end of 2010 and they were the first ones to tell me I would stay in the IndyCar Series when I had no sponsor and no team to race,” Kanaan said in a statement.

“So, I’m more than excited to have them join Chip Ganassi Racing for this new chapter of my career.  I’m looking forward to a strong season with them at Chip Ganassi Racing.”

The energy drink brand is also hopeful that Kanaan’s exploits with Ganassi will lead to growth for its business here in the States.

“I’m excited about the continued relationship with Tony, the opportunity to be associated to such a successful team like Chip Ganassi Racing, and what the future holds for TNT Energy Drink in the IndyCar Series and in the U.S. market,” said Douglas Costa, marketing director for TNT’s parent company, Grupo Petropolis.

Petropolis is Brazil’s largest beverage company and owns the Itaipava beer brand, which has also been associated with Kanaan in recent times.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “