Kanaan: No plans to go anywhere — other than back to victory lane

(Getty Images)

If he has anything to say about it, Tony Kanaan isn’t going anywhere else, any time soon.

Kanaan, who turns 42 on Dec. 31, is having a productive season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He’s sixth in the standings – he’s been as high as fifth – and finished fourth in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Sure, he’s struggled when it comes to podium finishes in 2016: he has just one in the first 11 races, a runner-up finish at Road America.

But overall, he’s had a decent season. While he hasn’t reached victory lane since the 2014 season, the Brazilian driver has four top-fives and six top-10s this season.

While those numbers could be better, Kanaan has every intention of making it to his 16th IndyCar campaign in 2017 – and he hopes to stay for a fourth season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’m looking to be where I’m at,” Kanaan told NBCSN after Sunday’s race. “I’m looking to be in IndyCar. I’m not ready to go anywhere else.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get it done. You can count on it that  I’ll do everything I can to stay here.”

Kanaan finished a close fourth – and barely missed out on his second podium showing – to third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe in Sunday’s race.

“I think we had something for Hinchcliffe,” Kanaan said. “For sure, I think they had to save fuel and I didn’t.

“It was a risky move for us but it worked out. Big props to Todd (Malloy, lead engineer), Barry (Wanser, strategist) and my NTT Data guys.

“We knew what we had to do. A great call from the guys in the pits. I had the red tires, which were a lot quicker. … I pushed as hard as I could. The problem was, 3 laps in to come in, I destroyed (the tires) trying to get the lead. If it hadn’t been for that last yellow, I think we might have caught Hinch.”

Still, Kanaan thinks better times are on the horizon.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re getting closer and closer every weekend.”

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”