With his forthcoming jump to Chip Ganassi Racing now officially set, Tony Kanaan can likely look forward to at least one more shot at an IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the twilight years of his career.
But the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner is also looking forward to teaming up with good friends Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, as well as American rising star Charlie Kimball.
Franchitti and Kanaan were teammates in the early-to-mid 2000s at Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport), and together with the late Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta, created a “Four Muskeeters” sort of lineup that is still remembered for both its accomplishments on the track and a tight-knit nature off of it.
Following today’s announcement, Kanaan called Franchitti and Dixon his “brothers” but also said he looked forward to working together with everyone in the stable – and facing the pressure that’s sure to go with being part of the Ganassi organization.
“Charlie, I know he’s a young up-and-comer and this year, he’s been extremely fast. But Dario and Dixie are no-brainers – we’re good friends outside the track, and Dario was my teammate for years,” he said. “People don’t realize how close we all were before I joined this team, so while it’s a new home for me, my brothers already live there. I think it’s going to be great.
“All the eyes are going to be on us. It’s a lot of championship, a lot of Indy 500s, a lot of race wins. And I know [team owner Chip Ganassi] doesn’t expect any less from us. But it’s a good problem to have.”
Kanaan has been long been a key part of IndyCar’s core, but for the last few years, he’s still had to battle for sponsorship in the midst of a global economic downturn.
He had been vocal about his money struggles during the summer, and at one point during the season, a potential program in NASCAR was mentioned as a possibility for him. But he’ll be staying in open-wheel and driving for one of its most important and successful teams with backing from NTT Data.
“I remember that was the first question that I asked Chip: ‘What do I need to bring?,'” said Kanaan, referring to funding. “And he said, ‘Your helmet.’ And that was like a big weight off of my shoulders.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to work together to capture some of the stuff that I had, because I think it will be really a shame to my sponsors that have been with me in the hard times [if they can’t] come to an organization like this if they have the opportunity. We’re still going to work on it, but that has not been the point for me to come to work for Chip.”
“…[Finding sponsors] was a responsibility that I never wanted. But by default, I had to have it. I’m not saying I’m gonna give up [on that] and say, ‘Good,’ but the deal was not anywhere near depending on me bringing anything apart from my services.”
And thus, for the first time in several seasons, Kanaan can finally put all of his focus on the race track. One wonders what that could do for him in regards to pursuing the 2014 championship.