Ganassi Racing introduces driver identification, mentor program

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Chip Ganassi Racing won’t be giving Devlin Defrancesco money, a ride or sponsorship.

Instead, the 15 year old go kart driver from Toronto, Canada will be getting Tony Kanaan.

Last Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, CGR introduced Defrancesco and Kanaan as the first of 10 pairings in its first class of the “Generation Ganassi” driver identification and mentor program.

The program is aimed to help drivers between 13 and 18 chart their way through the world of auto racing. It partners the driver with one current CGRT driver, a CGRT racing competition person and someone from CGRT business operations.

The application process opened Friday and will close on Jan. 31 with the class being announced next March.

Candidates must complete an online application process including basic background questions and a brief video essay answering why they should be selected to enter the program. Submission of a video that highlights their racing achievements, interaction with family and friends and personality is also encouraged.

“I think one of the things for me that was extremely important growing up was to understand how to behave, how to talk to the media, how to talk to the sponsors,” Kanaan said. “If you’re born with the talent, you have the talent. That’s imminent. But nowadays, it’s such a competitive field that you have to have something more. I think with an organization like this, the kids can benefit from a lot, just not taking to all of the drivers that we have but experiencing different series that we have.”

Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, will serve as mentor to the 2013 Canadian National Junior champion in karting who is part of Carlin’s efforts in the FIA Formula 4 Championship.

“Overall I think this a great opportunity, professionally,” Defrancesco said. “To be watched by a team such as Chip Ganassi, who is so renowned in motorsports due to them competing on multiple fronts and I feel very grateful for this opportunity and everything that’s been done for me so far.”

But his relationship with Kanaan is not a new one.

While Kanaan says Ganassi had his eye on Defrancesco “for quite a bit,” the IndyCar driver has been working with him since he was 8 and racing a go kart at Homestead-Miami Speedway, 50 minutes from where Kanaan lives.

“I remember going to the Florida Winter Series, it happens every January,” Kanaan said. “I was just watching and asked, ‘Who is that kid?’ At the time he was 8 years old and a crazy 8 year old. I have an 8 year old right now and I’m kind of glad he’s not as fast as Devlin was because I would have a heart attack.”

Kanaan told Defrancesco then that he didn’t think he had the money to be a sponsor but that “If I can give you any advice when you’re going through the experiences I’ve been through and try to guide you through your career, I’m up for it.”

Defrancesco took the opportunity with “two hands.”

Kanaan believes there’s plenty of driver talent to be found, but that auto racing as an industry can be “so ungrateful sometimes” compared to other sports.

“If you’re a basketball player and you’re really good, you’re going to make it to the NBA, one way or another,” Kanaan said. “In racing how many guys are probably better than Tony Kanaan or better than Kyle Larson or Jamie McMurray, but they never got the opportunity? …  We’re not going to be able to discover all of them.”

But every year, 10 hopeful drivers will be.