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.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway