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Kanaan after Texas: ‘Everybody is entitled to a bad day’

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Ahead of his biggest racing debut in years, as Tony Kanaan reverts back to being a rookie ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Kanaan reflected on his role in last Saturday night’s chaotic Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Kanaan finished a season-best second in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after an eventful night. He was involved in the eight-car pileup on Lap 152 that took a lot of cars out, and was penalized with a stop-and-hold plus 20-second penalty for blocking and avoidable contact. Earlier in the race, he came in contact with Alexander Rossi. Despite losing a couple laps, Kanaan recovered them on wave-bys and drove near to the front before the race ended under yellow.

Speaking to reporters at Le Mans, Kanaan explained the nature of the relationship he has with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series driver fraternity and how he took – and endured – a beating after a rare “off night” in terms of his on-track driving style.

“We’re very unified. I’m one of the drivers that runs the drivers’ association and I think one of the biggest things that we did was try and bring everybody together,” Kanaan explained. “We’re a big family, we race and there are rivalries and stuff, but I don’t know. I don’t have the explanation as to why it’s different from here, but we’re definitely really tight.

“I got a lot of heat last weekend, for sure. My phone was getting bombarded by all the drivers. I got to talk to some of the guys that I needed to apologize to.

“Everybody is entitled to have a bad day, and I think if you admit that and we’re cool, we’re all drivers and we understand what we can and we can’t do.

“At the end of the day, I think for some reason we like each other! We like each other a lot, we think about the big picture and we try to make the series better. Although only one guy wins, I think a lot of the guys there don’t have big egos, and that helps a lot.”

Kanaan said the way the race style played out reverted back to what he termed, like others in the field, a pack race. Granted this was not at the level of low-horsepower pack races back in the IRL days – Kanaan survived through many of those as part of his 20-year career – but it was the closest thing to it since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012.

Interestingly, the driver meant to be racing at Le Mans instead of Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, lit into IndyCar’s Texas race in a Motorsport.com article. Kanaan wasn’t quite as graphic in his description.

“Yeah it was totally unexpected,” Kanaan said. “They had changed the race track, the layout of the track, and I didn’t expect the track to be like that. At the end of the day, it became a big, big pack race. I can assure you it will change that for next year.

“It’s a full package. It’s not just the cars. I think the tires as well, we didn’t have any tire degradation, the tires were too good. Everybody had a good car all the way to the end and that obviously didn’t spread the field out.”

Kanaan was able to recover the lost time thanks in part to the competition cautions, which were decided in collaboration between INDYCAR and Firestone owing to blisters that were occurring on multiple cars. Kanaan had no problem with the mutual decision to implement these cautions.

“For me obviously it was a safety issue there, because we were blowing tires, so I don’t think it was a bad thing,” he said.

“I mean we had to create that because Helio had blown the tires with blisters, and Firestone didn’t want to jeopardize anybody’s health. I think at that point it was necessary and we had to do it.”

The dream now shifts to Kanaan’s overdue Le Mans debut, with defending GTE-Pro class winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in Bourdais’ stead, sharing the No. 68 Ford GT.

Kanaan completed his requisite 15 laps in the first and only pre-qualifying practice earlier at Le Mans today; as a Platinum-rated rookie he needed only five laps to qualify to compete at Le Mans. Other rookies need to complete 10 laps.

“It’s not bad when you have a weekend off and they invite you to come to Le Mans. It’s a good problem to have,” Kanaan laughed.

“I’m glad that I get to do it and hopefully add some trophies to my trophy case. (If I win, it’d be) at the same level as my 500 and my Daytona 24 Hour win. There is one space for that!

“Seb is French, he lives here, and he won the race, so no pressure!! Very, very easy!”

Kanaan is now set for the first Le Mans qualifying session, which begins shortly at 10 p.m. local time in France, 4 p.m. ET.

Luke Smith contributed to this report from Le Mans 

Texas polesitter Kimball optimistic luck will turn after rough stretch

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Charlie Kimball enters the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series in a weird place – exactly double the position he ended last year’s season in the championship.

But the drop from ninth, a career-best in the standings in 2016, to 18th through the first nine races of this year, has been due to an almost freakish cartoon of bad luck that has consistently struck the No. 83 Tresiba Honda, through almost no fault of his own.

Kimball’s best result is eighth, twice in nine events. After first-lap collisions at St. Petersburg and Long Beach put Kimball under the microscope for all the wrong reasons, a cartoon anvil has come attacking him and this portion of the Chip Ganassi Racing team since.

Three Honda engine issues have hit him at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil after leading five laps, and then most recently at Texas Motor Speedway with an oil leak that took him out early after winning an overdue first career pole.

Those issues, coupled with Kimball getting caught out behind Conor Daly’s engine issue at Detroit race one, have limited the improvements in his camp since an earlier switch from Eric Cowdin to Todd Malloy as Kimball’s lead engineer.

Kimball explained what has happened to him the last month or so, while being part of a four-car Firestone tire test at Watkins Glen along with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Max Chilton and Team Penske’s Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

“We had an oil leak… they looked for the culprit and they thought they found it,” Kimball told NBC Sports. “By the time they thought they fixed it, we were too many laps down to make it back up and make it worthwhile.

“The important thing is, frankly, that we got the pole. The luck will come good.

“We’ve had multiple engine issues and when one wasn’t in our car, it was in the 4 car (Daly), when his engine cut out in front of us. At Detroit one, I was pretty close behind him through Turn 3 and he didn’t accelerate, he had no power, so he was decelerating. So when I tried to get out and around him, that caught my (front wing) end fence, and put me into the wall.”

Kimball’s unexpected sideline role at Texas as the only car out of the race not from crash damage provided him a bit of insight into how the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 race, ran.

As Kimball explained – and the seventh-year driver from California is generally pretty good at doing so – rather than the simple “pack race” terminology, multiple factors contributed the crash-fest.

“I think for me, it was interesting to watch,” he explained. “Part of it was I don’t think people expected it to race like that in Turns 1 and 2. Part of it was we hadn’t run much in those conditions. And then at least to me, I didn’t hear about the repave until middle of summer. So when it’s that late in the game, it leaves Firestone and the other manufacturers with less time to come up with a plan to test. So we came there, and there were still unanswered questions.”

Just 116 points separate the top 13 in the standings (Scott Dixon has 326 points to Marco Andretti’s 210). Then after a several point drop from 14th through 17th (Ryan Hunter-Reay is 14th on 194 while Carlos Munoz is 17th on 180), Kimball is a further 37 points back just of Munoz, on 143 for the year.

Stat-wise, Kimball has been fine in qualifying this year, although could be better. His average grid position through nine races is 11.4, down only one spot from the same time last year when it was 10.4 – and with more Hondas up front this year than in the past two years, that’s not really a significant drop-off.

However it’s his finishes that have nosedived and contributed to the year-to-year decline. Through nine races last year, Kimball had eight finishes in the top 12, and two fifth-place results with a worst result of 16th. This year, the two eighth places are his only finishes better than 15th, and with five finishes of 21st or worse, Kimball’s average finish has plunged year-on-year through nine races from 8.8 to 17.6.

All that may make climbing up the points standings a tall order but for Kimball, keeping the faith the Ganassi team and the No. 83 crew has entrusted in him – it’s not like he’s forgotten how to drive – is what keeps him motivated going into the second half of the season.

“I draw a lot of support from my crew, the 83 crew and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. That helps a lot. You keep working your process and keep working with the crew. There’s times you carry them, and others they carry you. The luck will come good. Because if not for bad luck this year, we’d have no luck. The pendulum will come towards the good luck swing.

“I think a lot of people miss the opportunity to seize that chance. They get stuck in a rut of bad luck after bad luck, so when it does come good, you need to take it.”

Kimball is optimistic going into next week’s KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, June 25, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he finished sixth last year and after the Watkins Glen tire test.

Despite the “weird schedule” of sleeping in until 9 a.m., getting to the track at 1 or 2 p.m. before running from 4 to 8 p.m. local time at the Corning, N.Y. circuit, Kimball has excelled knowing he’s entrusted to be part of a Firestone test.

“It’s apples to oranges, really, with last year’s kit to the Honda this year,” Kimball explained. “The grip still feels awesome. The track is a blast to drive. Really rewards commitment and a great balance. We didn’t do much tuning on the car.”

Kimball also could afford to laugh at one flashback moment, as he and Power were sat together in a circuit car surveying the track before running on Tuesday. The two collided in last year’s Watkins Glen race, Power having blamed Kimball for the contact but Kimball calling it a racing incident.

“We got back, and Simon was like, ‘You guys OK?’ I got back to my timing stand and had to laugh… it was funny. I’ve moved on.”

After a rough year that has not matched his talent, Kimball must be hoping the results move on as well.

Chaves, Harding impress with top five at Texas

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One of the newest teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series is quickly making a name for itself as a surprise contender.

Harding Racing, owned by Indiana businessman Mike Harding (has a technical partnership with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing and shares its shop), with IndyCar veteran Larry Curry serving as team manager and competition director, had not contested a race prior to this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Yet, with two races now on their resume, Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet, in the hands of 23-year-old Gabby Chaves, is making its presence felt.

The two races the team has contested, the aforementioned Indy 500 and Saturday’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway, saw a combined 20 caution periods (11 at Indianapolis, nine at Texas) for various incidents, with Saturday’s race in Texas especially filled with carnage.

Yet, in both races, Chaves survived the chaos to not only bring the No. 88 entry home in one piece, but in strong finishing positions. A ninth-place at Indianapolis was buoyed by a fifth-place run at Texas on Saturday night, completing a remarkable opening pair of races for the young outfit.

Chaves detailed after Texas that the reasons behind their success are actually quite simple: they’ve had solid preparation and have stayed out of trouble.

“We did what we had to do. We kept our nose clean. We had a solid car. I think before the accidents, we were inside the top 12. We had great Chevy power until the end, and just made the passes when we had to. Just really proud of the team effort,” Chaves said of Saturday night’s result.

Though the team is searching for sponsors and partners to secure a planned full-season effort in 2018, their third and final scheduled race of 2017 will be the ABC Supply 500 (August 20, NBCSN) at Pocono.

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IndyCar field brings ‘pack race’ term back to vernacular at Texas

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Infrequently since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis (IR-12 in technical terms per INDYCAR) ahead of the 2012 IndyCar Series season, have the words “pack racing” been thrown around.

With a significant reduction in the number of 1.5-mile race tracks left on the schedule – just Texas Motor Speedway stands alone as the remaining 1.5-miler on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar – and the combination of an older track and a significant tire falloff occurring over the course of a stint, the ingredients for a pack race have not been thrown around.

But in what was the closest element of a “pack race” in recent years, the combination of a repaved Texas track that was grippier than normal and the fact the new Firestone tires brought this weekend didn’t fall off as much as they had in the past over the course of the stint brought the “pack race” term back to the vernacular. Once blistering started occurring on some cars though, the decision was made to implement in-race competition cautions on safety grounds after 30 lap segments of green flag running.

Drivers ran close all night with the second groove coming into play after all, as first shown by Tristan Vautier and then by others over the course of the 248-lap Rainguard Water Sealers 600 race. Attempts at three-wide running didn’t work; Mikhail Aleshin was on the high side when James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan collided and Josef Newgarden’s attempt at running the highest line later in the race also ended in the wall.

A number of crashes followed, with the nine-car accident on Lap 152 serving as the most intense moment of the race. Fortunately there were no broken bones or airborne cars, but there were a lot of frustrated drivers and heavy repair bills that came out of Saturday night’s race.

Race winner Will Power said he’d told the series in advance that a pack race was possible based on the new conditions for this Texas race.

“I mean, I sold the series, next to Jay Frye, this will be an absolute pack race. I didn’t say whether it was good or bad, I absolutely knew it would be a pack race,” Power said in the post-race press conference. There was no doubt in my mind. Anyone who didn’t — I mean, the first time we ran here, I said, yeah, this will be a pack race. Yeah.

“I like tire degradation so at least you can work on the car. It’s fine to do that for the first half of the stint, you know, 10 laps, but I think there needs to be a bit of falloff to create some separation because it gets — you know, when we’re doing it every week, people got good at it, and need to give some respect and understood it.

“I mean, when you’re leading, it’s the easiest night. Until you’re leading, the last 10 laps or six, you’re driving around wide open. The tire never fell off. And I always said that, like the easiest day of your life if you lead a pack race. The easiest day of your life.”

Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud said he’d also called it where the second groove would come in, when speaking to USA Today sports reporter Brant James.

“After qually I actually talked to Brant James and we talked about how the race was going to play and exactly what I thought was going to happen,” Pagenaud said. “We were able to run second lane on a dusty track already, so I thought it was good fun.

“I thought it was good racing. Yes, it was some pack racing. You didn’t have to pedal the car all that much. You still had to chase it with the setup, but you couldn’t get away with a good car. That’s the only disappointing part, but I thought for the fans it was a great show.

“Now it’s our responsibility as drivers to respect the others and not unplug the brain completely at times. It’s our responsibility to know that someone on your side — not to crash into them. To me that’s where I would leave it at. That’s the bottom line.”

Kanaan, who was in the eye of the storm from the competitors, said IndyCar should race at Texas but shouldn’t be racing the way they all did on Saturday.

“I think it’s pretty obvious we can’t. I mean, what you have — five cars finished the race, six cars?” he said. “I mean, plus in our type of cars, we can’t do that. That’s my opinion. I mean, I know people will agree and people will disagree with me, but it was a new track. They did a great job — this track, back in the days, with the rain that we got two days ago we probably wouldn’t even be racing here today, so great job that they changed the layout and actually I thought it was going to be different.

“It was our first race back because of the construction we didn’t really have a lot of time to test here. Yeah, man, this is my opinion. I don’t think we should be doing this the way it is. We should be coming to Texas. The fans are great. This track is awesome. But I think we should change the format a little bit. How, I don’t know, we’ve got to figure it out.”

Detroit double winner Graham Rahal, who finished fourth, added,  “It was a crazy night with a lot of guys taking a lot of chances. After Indy and after this race, drivers need to have to take a deep breath and realize that this is dangerous stuff. I’m glad that our car doesn’t have a ding on it.”

Those were among the lucky ones who escaped Texas unscathed but for the 16 other drivers caught up in incidents – 15 accidents and one mechanical (the luckless Charlie Kimball, who retired early with an oil leak from his first career pole) – the words weren’t minced.

“Tony (Kanaan) has more experience in this kind of pack racing than anybody,” Hinchcliffe said. “I went wheel-to-wheel with him last year for the win and nine times out of 10 would do that all day long, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t playing very nice today and wrecked a lot of good equipment. It turned into way more of a pack race than we’ve had here in a long time, which unfortunately, leads to situations like this.”

“I thought we could make it three lanes up there,” said Aleshin, who was three-wide and got collected following contact between Hinchcliffe and Kanaan in that Lap 152 pileup. “I didn’t understand what was going on, because I gave space to them, but something was going on with James and Kanaan. In the end, you know, what we have is two great cars that ended up in the wall and that’s just dumb. It’s stupid and I’m very disappointed in regards to the shape of the team this weekend.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was also in the pileup, added, “There were guys making too many moves out there late into the corner. I will save my opinion for after I look at it. I came down, there were cars spinning and sparks everywhere. I went for the apron, I kind of high-sided a bit, and I was just a passenger from there. There was no where to go. You can’t jump all over the brakes from these cars once you are doing 220mph into the corner, there’s not a whole lot of places to go.”

Ed Carpenter said, “It was a wild night. We overcame a lot of adversity. First the spin – I was hoping for a spin and win! – and then got caught up in that big one. But there’s no quit in Ed Carpenter Racing. As many cars as were crashed out, we figured we’d patch it back up and salvage some points. You collect points all year long and you never know what a night like tonight might do at the end of the year for the entrant championship standings for both the No. 20 and the No. 21.”

Conor Daly, who finished a season-best seventh for AJ Foyt Racing, summed it up: “That was crazy. I think the biggest thing tonight is that I learned a lot. That was the first time ever on an oval that I raced side-by-side or that close to anyone. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) we’re never like that and last year I didn’t make it through much of the race.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series has a needed week off next weekend after five consecutive on-track weekends (three at Indianapolis, Detroit doubleheader and Texas), although Andretti Autosport and Dale Coyne Racing, and perhaps one other team, are scheduled to test Wednesday at Road America. For all teams, the thrash to rebuild cars begins once they get home after an expensive night under the lights.

Kanaan laments tough Texas race after finishing second (VIDEO)

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Even though Tony Kanaan finished second, his best finish of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, he was far from happy following the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway.

Being in the crosshairs in two major accidents, then getting a stop-and-hold plus 20 second penalty for blocking and avoidable contact after the second one, forced him a lap down and needed a comeback to be triggered. But multiple cautions – some of them INDYCAR mandated competition cautions that were surprise additions – brought him back into contention.

Early in the race on lap 38, he and teammate Scott Dixon went three-wide around Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, with Rossi getting pinched and crashing in turn three.

Much later, on lap 153 and again running three-wide, Kanaan drifted up into the car of James Hinchcliffe, who simultaneously had Mikhail Aleshin flanking him on his right side. The squeeze and contact between the three sent Hinchcliffe into a spin that collected Aleshin and a host of others in a pileup that caused a red flag.

“I guess I’m being blamed about everything,” Kanaan deadpanned to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt after the incident.

“Um, I think I definitely moved a bit to the right. There’s a bump. I tried to avoid it.

“I moved up a little bit for sure. I hate to do that. That wasn’t on purpose. It’s a shame. That’s not the way I drive. We got the penalty. We paid it. We raced back. It is what it is.”

With a little bit more time to cool down, Kanaan was apologetic in the post-race press conference, as he explained further.

“There was a bump going into Turn 3 there, and I think — I guess I moved up, and I really have to apologize to (Hinchcliffe),” he lamented.

“I’m definitely going to go see him if he wants to see me or I’ll call him. But yeah, and I guess it was a close call. I moved up, and we hit. I’m really — it’s sad. I don’t do those kind of things. I race people clean, and I want people to race me clean.”

Hinchcliffe’s take on Kanaan’s role in the accident was this, to NBCSN: “He comes over… 2.5 car widths, and he drives me straight into Mikhail. We were three-wide. Either the spotter didn’t tell him, or he didn’t care. He usually doesn’t race like that. He’s so far away, right, right right, the corner’s left. It turned into more of a pack race. It took a lot of good cars out.”

Kanaan was also taken aback by the style of racing this year at the 1.5-mile oval. Due to the repaving and reconfiguration that saw banking in turns one and two reduced, he was firm in his belief ahead of the night that pack racing was out of the question. But, he quickly found out the exact opposite was true.

“Lap 6: (Tristan) Vautier passed everybody on the outside, I’m like ‘I was not expecting that.’ And then he started to clean it up there. So no, honestly, if you look at my pre-race interview, I’m like ‘No way.’ Oh, boy, I was wrong. So wrong.”

Kanaan also asserted that, while he’s a fan of the new layout and enjoys the atmosphere and fans at Texas Motor Speedway, he does not want this type of racing to be the norm on big ovals.

“It was our first race back because of the construction. We didn’t really have a lot of time to test here. Yeah, man, this is my opinion. I don’t think we should be doing this the way it is. We should be coming to Texas. The fans are great. This track is awesome. But I think we should change the format a little bit. How, I don’t know. We’ve got to figure it out,” he detailed.

Kanaan’s second-place finish does move him up to eighth in the championship on 264 points, 64 markers back of teammate Scott Dixon for the championship lead.

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