Tony Kanaan on car safety, 2016 schedule and more

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FORT WORTH, Texas – After he was done helping introduce Chip Ganassi Racing’s “Generation Ganassi” to members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway, Tony Kanaan was asked about the big stories surrounding the Verizon IndyCar Series in the third month of its off season.

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion addressed the recent test at Phoenix International Raceway as the series will return to the track in 2016, as well as IndyCar CEO Mark Miles announcing no additional safety measures would be introduced in 2016 after the death of Justin Wilson and the disparity between Chevrolet and Honda.

Below is the transcript of Kanaan’s media session.

What were your takeaways from the recent test at Phoenix?

It was a good test. The track has changed since we last raced there (in 2005). I think it’s going to be a great comeback for us. There is a market for it. I like the new IndyCar with the aero kits and I think it’s going to be a good race.

How exactly is it different? It has been reconfigured.

Turn 1 is the same, all they changed was the short chute for us. It didn’t change a lot. It’s just a little more banked. But that wasn’t a corner for us in the past. The two most important corners are exactly the same.

Thoughts on the new IndyCar schedule?

I’m happy that we extended a little bit, that’s what we were all asking. I think our season was a little short. We lost one of my favorite tracks, Milwaukee, as far as being an oval, but we gained Boston as a street course, which is a pretty good market for us. I’m pleased. I think the biggest issue was trying to lengthen the schedule so that teams could survive and keep everybody employed, so it was a positive.

Thoughts on Fontana not being on the schedule for 2016?

I think Fontana was a race every fan wanted to watch, the way it was. I think the season finale in Sonoma was extremely exciting. It’s hard to put in perspective as far as being the season finale.

Do I think Fontana should be on the schedule? Yes, as far as a superspeedway. The thing is, Fontana put in a pretty good effort to try to get people to come and watch and I think we haven’t done a good enough job to bring people there and it gets to the point where if it’s not worth it for the promoter to bring us back, we got to understand that.

Does that fall on the scheduling being in the summer?

It could be, I hear that they wanted a night race and another date that we couldn’t do. I think for sure, if it was later in the year, the way it was, I think it would have more people. But that’s my opinion.

Reaction to Mark Miles coming out and saying there wouldn’t be any significant safety additions for next year?

The car is pretty safe. The thing he meant there was everybody now is expecting us to come with some kind of canopy or something that would close the cockpit. Those things don’t happen overnight. And I would say on that matter, I am the president of the driver’s association, we’ve been working with that for more than five years. So what I think he meant by that was don’t expect us to come and say ‘Now we’ve found it,’ because it’s been an ongoing process.

So I would say, I’m OK with it. I think there are a couple of things we will change as far as trying to have the big pieces flying and we’re probably going to tether a couple, the nose cone and a couple of things we think can prevent it. But as far as big changes, I didn’t expect it either. Because Formula One has been trying for years as well and we haven’t come up with a good solution. We’ve got to be careful when you react to an accident to try and prevent what happened there (at Pocono) and you’re not going to create four more problems trying to fix one and that’s the biggest debate.

We have a safety committee that we worked together with doctors and FIA and everybody to try and improve the problem. But right now I was OK with his comments because I knew all ready what it was.

You guys had the hot hand last year at Chevrolet, Honda was pretty upset with how that went. Do you think it’s important for both sides to be able to have some measure of parity?

For sure, and I think it happens here (in NASCAR) and I think it’s going to happen in NASCAR. They had like three windows for the rules for the manufacturers to apply on their aero kits and they test both cars and they gave Honda a little bit more of a gap to try and catch up with the Chevy’s and I expect them to be probably at the start of the year stronger than they Chevy’s and then we’ll have to catch up. But I think especially nowadays with the amount of money the manufacturers put into racing that you can’t have a disparity like that because then you’re just going to send them home. Then we don’t want that. Obviously, I’m on the Chevy side. We did a much better job off the bat, but right now I think they’ve been given the opportunity to catch up.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.