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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Tony Kanaan

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Tony Kanaan matched his car number, finishing 10th in points, but had a challenging season.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

  • 2016: 7th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 2 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 37 Laps Led, 8.8 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 10th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 55 Laps Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish

Tony Kanaan had enjoyed three good if not spectacular seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing since moving there in 2014, and was a regular contender for race wins and podiums, but precious little went right in 2017.

This season saw Kanaan struggle to maximize results and along with it he, like others within the series, endured an inordinate amount of bad luck. Like teammate Charlie Kimball, he also had an engineer change early in the year with Eric Cowdin coming back over and Todd Malloy moving to the No. 83 car.

Contact from Mikhail Aleshin at each of the first two races cost him results there before a pair of back-to-back top-10s followed at Barber and Phoenix. After a tough Indianapolis Grand Prix, Kanaan enjoyed another solid run in the Indianapolis 500, where he perpetually shines and leads laps. Fifth wasn’t an ideal result but still proof he was in the winning picture once again. He also got a deam opportunity to debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ganassi’s Ford GT program, deputizing for the injured Sebastien Bourdais.

However things in IndyCar deteriorated from June onwards. Incidents occurred with 2016 Iowa rival Alexander Rossi on two occasions, first at Texas when Rossi was squeezed in a three-wide “Ganassi sandwich,” then at Road America when Kanaan sustained a heavy accident at the Kink after claiming Rossi had blocked him even though Rossi had a front wing failure. Fortunately he was OK. He ended second at Texas but even that came after a maelstrom of drivers accusing Kanaan of rough driving, and after Kanaan got docked two laps in-race by INDYCAR Race Control – but recovered.

Contact in Turn 1 at Toronto brought out a decisive yellow flag that bit race leaders Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves and jumbled the order there. A tough end to the season saw Kanaan end 16th or worse in four of the last five races, having been parked by his team at Gateway after being several laps down. He’d spun on the pace lap there into the Turn 2 wall, but that was as much down to a dirty track at the outset. Crashing behind Josef Newgarden in the Watkins Glen pit lane exit was another rare error that seemed out of character. Pocono, where he ended fifth and enjoyed a great lead dice with Graham Rahal, was his lone second half highlight.

As ever, Kanaan was excellent on ovals – his points haul from those six races was third best in the series – but a rough patch of results in nearly every road or street race doomed his overall hopes. In the 11 road and street races, he had two top-10 finishes and an average result of 15.5. The oval average, by contrast, was 7.2.

The law of averages balanced it out and left Kanaan 10th in the standings. Like fellow 20-year Brazilian and good friend Helio Castroneves, Kanaan rarely finishes outside the top-nine in points – this was only the fifth time in his career this has happened. Four of those five have been between 10th and 12th. It felt a lost season for both Kanaan and Ganassi, and one that now sees them head their separate ways for 2018 as Kanaan heads to A.J. Foyt’s team.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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