Chip Ganassi, Tony Kanaan

Kanaan has chance to extend best friends’ legacy in Ganassi’s No. 10

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We’ve written a lot in the week since Ryan Briscoe was picked to be Chip Ganassi Racing’s fourth driver about his return to the team, but not nearly as much about reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan actually taking over the No. 10 Target IndyCar from Dario Franchitti.

Things are coming a bit full circle for Kanaan, who had the opportunity to join the Target team after 2008 when his contract was up with then-Andretti Green Racing. As it turned out, Kanaan opted to re-sign with AGR, which left Franchitti a place to return to replace the late Dan Wheldon heading into the 2009 season.

Now, the reality is sinking it that Kanaan will follow two of his best friends – and former AGR teammates – in the 10 for 2014.

“The day of my announcement, was the day (Dario) said, ‘This is real.’ To me, it’s today. This is real,” Kanaan admitted on Thursday.

“It’s kind of funny how the story was written,” he added. “To be honest with you, I was thinking about it the other day. If there’s a funny way to look at it, when Dan (Wheldon) went upstairs, he found the book of the story of our lives and he found a page and changed it. He wrote this (scenario) down. It’s just unbelievable. The three last guys on the (Borg-Warner) trophy and the three last guys who drove the 10 car.”

And indeed that’s the case. Wheldon, who famously won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on the final lap, Franchitti, who took his third triumph after holding off Takuma Sato with a great effort on the last lap in 2012, and Kanaan, who won this year’s, now have held the No. 10 seat in succession.

Franchitti only wanted it if it was determined he couldn’t drive anymore, as he explained Thursday during his first round of media availability since his Houston accident.

“That’s when I said to myself, If for whatever reason I don’t drive anymore, I would love for you to drive the 10 car,” Franchitti said. “That would be my dream. I have no power to make that happen, but that would make me very happy to see you get a chance to drive that. That’s when we had that discussion.”

It’s only going back to Ganassi’s difficult 2005 season that it hasn’t had a top-flight, race-winning driver in the No. 10 alongside Scott Dixon in the No. 9. That year, a carousel of drivers in Darren Manning, Giorgio Pantano and Jaques Lazier rotated through the team. Wheldon came in in 2006, with Franchitti taking over in 2009.

Kanaan was happy enough to have the chance to join Ganassi as it was, when he was originally projected to take over the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet with Franchitti planning to make a full recovery in the 10. Now, Kanaan shifts to the 10, Briscoe comes back, and Kanaan’s opportunity is greater still.

“For me at this point of my career, to get the opportunity like that, it wasn’t in my mind,” Kanaan said. “It was a difficult day, just watching (Dario) but he does such a good job. I wouldn’t be able to handle myself without crying. He was talking to all his friends. I know that I can honor him every time I drive his car.”

He’ll do so working in tandem with engineer Chris Simmons, who remains on the No. 10, while his own longtime engineer Eric Cowdin will work with Briscoe on the No. 8. Cowdin and Briscoe have a history though, from their time together at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.