Kanaan set for more than just Indy 500 success with Ganassi switch in 2014

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One glorious, vintage Tony Kanaan restart was all it took for the Brazilian to finally check off the one remaining unchecked box on his IndyCar career checklist last year.

After passing Ryan Hunter-Reay on the inside with Carlos Munoz following to “RHR’s” outside, Kanaan had the lead into Turn 1, and a crash by Dario Franchitti moments later left the race under caution.

Kanaan, had, at long last, won the Indianapolis 500 in one of Indy’s most popular triumphs.

He’d reached the summit in his traditional No. 11, on his 12th attempt, in the 2013 edition of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” His self-described “ugly mug and big nose” would be next to his dear friends Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.

In some respects, that was all he needed to consider the season a success. And in some respects, that really was the highlight in a year that had a couple other good moments, but not a consistent enough campaign to challenge for a championship.

Since he transitioned IndyCar in 2003 from the CART ranks, Kanaan had never finished outside the top-10 in points. Yet last year, Kanaan ended 11th, with three other podiums and only two additional top-five finishes.

It was a year where Kanaan and the KV Racing Technology team opted to focus specifically on Indianapolis, and on ovals as a whole. The results there paid dividends.

Although there wasn’t the A.J. Foyt Trophy awarded to the top oval driver, “TK” ended 2013 with the third-most oval points, 202. He trailed only countryman Helio Castroneves (215) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (209) over those six races.

Yet disconcertingly, Kanaan ranked only 18th in points from the 13 remaining road and street course races, with only 195 points scored. Break down your averages and you see how much lower that total was (33.6 points per oval race; 15 points per road and street). Kanaan was ahead of only three other full-season drivers in Tristan Vautier, Sebastian Saavedra and Ed Carpenter.

With Kanaan not ready to hang up his helmet, now age 39 as of December 31, he was seeking one last chance to move back up the IndyCar totem pole.

He got that chance in October, named as fourth driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, as the projected fourth car alongside Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball.

Of course Franchitti needed to retire due to medical advice after his Houston injuries, and thus Kanaan has been entrusted with one of IndyCar’s most successful cars, the No. 10 Target car.

It came a few years late, perhaps, but still something that ticked all the right boxes for “TK.”

“A lot of people know I almost had a history in the 10 car before Dario got there. Dario proved that seat, coming from Dan, Dario and myself,” Kanaan said in December, when the announcement was made at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis.

“I remember one of the toughest times this year when Dario was in my house in Florida doing all the tests to see if he was going to be able to drive it,” he added. “I didn’t know how to talk to my best friend, when he broke the news to me.

“He looked at me in the face and said, ‘You know, it would be really cool if you could drive the Target car and replace me. I think it’s going to make it easier on my retirement.’”

And while Kanaan being in the 10 will ease Franchitti’s pain of not being able to race once again, and go for his own shot at a fourth ’500 win, Kanaan has a big responsibility to go with his big opportunity.

His qualifying and Franchitti’s was similar in overall stats in 2013; Kanaan ended the year with an 11.2 average to Franchitti’s 11.3.

But Franchitti had four pole positions, all on road and street courses, while Kanaan did not have the same level of success on those circuits. He made the Firestone Fast Six twice, but had only two other top-10 starts on road and street courses.

Kanaan will work with Chris Simmons as his engineer on the No. 10 Chevrolet, although his longtime engineer Eric Cowdin also comes over from KV and will engineer Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 entry.

He and Simmons do have a past history at Andretti Green Racing in 2003. Kanaan told MotorSportsTalk in January he’s optimistic they can gel rather quickly.

“That makes it a lot easier,” he admitted. “Eric has worked with Ryan before. It’s all there, the confidence is there, and we know each other. There’s no adapting issues; it’s just more me getting used to the setup.”

Kanaan, like Briscoe, has experience with Chevrolet’s twin-turbo specification and that should be a benefit as the Ganassi team switches from Honda in 2014.

But really for Kanaan, his 2014 is going to be about recapturing the form that saw him in title contention every year for Andretti, and upping his qualifying game a bit on road and street courses.

He remains one of IndyCar’s best on ovals, and best outright racers.

Wayne Taylor Racing, Meyer Shank Racing will race Acura in IMSA DPi

New Acura IMSA teams
Acura Motorsports
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Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing will become new Acura Motorsports teams next season in the Daytona Prototype International class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

In a multiyear deal, each team will campaign a car in IMSA’s top division starting with 2021, essentially replacing Acura’s two-car factory effort with Team Penske that will be ending after a three-season run.

Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus said drivers for WTR and MSR would be announced later by the teams.

Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac leads the points in the DPi division this season with drivers Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande after opening the season with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, its second in the past three seasons in the prestigious sports car event.

Meyer Shank Racing will be moving up to the DPi level after campaigning Acura NSX GT3 entries in the GT Daytona class this season. MSR also fields a full-time Dallara-Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Acura Motorsports

Here’s the release from Acura Motorsports:

Acura Motorsports today announced it will partner with Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing to campaign a pair of Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, beginning in 2021.

“It is a pleasure to announce that Wayne Taylor Racing will be joining the Acura ARX-05 IMSA program in 2021, along with Meyer Shank Racing, which will build on our very successful partnership by moving up to the prototype ranks,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura Brand Officer. “We’re confident that both teams will help us build on the successes we’ve achieved to date in IMSA competition, as we continue to apply Precision Crafted Performance to all of our activities – on the race circuits of North America, in our production vehicles, and in the market place.

“We also want to thank Roger Penske, who has long been an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers. It has been a privilege to have Roger as part of the Acura Motorsports family over the past three years.”

Defending IMSA GTD class champion Meyer Shank Racing [MSR] is in its third decade of operation. With wins in some of the biggest races in the sport, the Ohio-based team played a key role in the development of the successful Acura NSX GT3 Evo, and has raced the car to victory lane in four consecutive seasons, culminating in the drivers’ and teams’ titles in 2019. Acura and MSR are the current leaders in all three major GTD title championships.

“When Acura and HPD chose Meyer Shank Racing to debut the Acura NSX GT3 in 2017, it was a big moment in our history. I’m really proud of building a championship-winning program and everything that we’ve been able to accomplish together with the NSX,” said Michael Shank, co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing. “As a team, we’ve been working toward the opportunity to go and fight for overall wins for a long time, and I am eager to get going with this program. But we have some work to do first, and we are 100 percent focused on bringing another IMSA championship home with the Acura NSX in 2020.”

“Mike and I are both eager to expand our IMSA program and get to once again work with Acura and HPD,” said MSR co-owner Jim Meyer. “Mike has built such a strong IMSA program over the last decade, and this is another step that we’re looking forward to pursuing.”

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, Wayne Taylor Racing [WTR] has built a proven track record of success and ingenuity in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class, including two IMSA driver championships [in 2013 and 2017] and the 2017 IMSA DPi team championship. A three-time champion as a driver in sports car competition and Le Mans winner in 1998, Taylor’s Acura roots stretch back to 1992, when he drove for the championship-winning Comptech Acura team in IMSA Camel Lights competition.

WTR also has played an important role in winning eight IMSA manufacturer championships and has scored multiple victories in endurance racing’s most iconic events – the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring, Petit Le Mans, and Six Hours at Watkins Glen.

“I am extremely excited to have this opportunity given to me by HPD and Acura Motorsports,” said Wayne Taylor, owner of Wayne Taylor Racing. “Since getting to know everyone at HPD and Acura Motorsports, I feel that they have a lot of respect for the Wayne Taylor Racing family. What I really like is that they have the same passion and vision as I do. I am looking forward to running the DPi for the next few years. I am equally excited to be able to bring my long-term partnership with Konica Minolta, Rick Taylor and Michael Mathe to the program. We all can’t wait to get started.”

“We welcome Wayne Taylor Racing into the Acura Motorsports family, and very much anticipate their contributions to our prototype program,” said Ted Klaus, president of HPD, the competition arm for Acura Motorsports. “Equally, we look forward to growing our successful partnership with Meyer Shank Racing, now in DPi. Our intention is to have Acura Motorsports partner with MSR and WTR, to not only continue our championship ways in DPi, but to collaborate to develop the next generation Acura LMDh. Finally, we want to thank Team Penske for their outstanding effort and impressive results together with Acura and HPD these past three years.”

In addition to sweeping all three major IMSA DPi championships in 2019 – for Manufacturers, Drivers and Teams – the Acura ARX-05 has scored six race wins, 14 additional podium finishes, and 11 poles from 25 races in two-and-a-half seasons of IMSA multi-manufacturer competition that has included Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. Acura comes to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course seeking a third consecutive win this season, as well as a third consecutive victory in this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.

Acura Motorsports also campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 Evo in the IMSA GTD category, with defending GTD champion Meyer Shank Racing and the Gradient Racing organizations.  Winner of the IMSA GTD driver and team titles in 2019 – and the current GTD championship leader – the NSX program is expected to continue in IMSA competition in 2021.