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Alexander Rossi, Al Unser Jr., 23 others named to Road Racing Drivers Club

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The Road Racing Drivers Club has voted 25 new members to its 2016 class.

Numerous former stars are included, with 17 regular members from open-wheel and sports car racing, as well as five associate members and three honorary members.

The newest members takes the RRDC’s overall roster over 500 members, to 510.

“We are honored to welcome a group of outstanding racing champions and high achievers in the auto-racing arena,” RRDC president and Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Bobby Rahal said in a release.

“It’s clear that they are not only accomplished representatives of the sport, they have conducted themselves honorably off the track, a quality the RRDC members take into consideration when voting in new members.

“We also appreciate that each new member has enthusiastically accepted membership in the RRDC. We look forward to working with them as the RRDC continues to pursue its goals of recognizing and mentoring aspiring race-car drivers through a variety of programs.”

Here are the new members of the RRDC:

Regular members:

JONATHAN BENNETT: Two-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge Driver Champion, 2014-15.

MATTHEW BRABHAM: 2012 USF2000 Champion; 2013 Pro Mazda Champion.

GABBY CHAVES: 2009 Formula BMW Americas Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Three-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Champion (with Joao Barbosa), 2014-16; three-time Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup Champion, 2014-16 (with Joao Barbosa).

JOHN FITZPATRICK: 1966 British Saloon Car Champion; the 1972 and ’74 European GT Champion; Porsche Cup titlist in 1972, ’74 and ’80; plus 1980 IMSA GT Champion.

GEORGE FIZELL: 1984 SCCA President’s Cup winner; four-time SCCA National Championships in Formula Vee.

SAGE KARAM: 2010 USF2000 National Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 35-time World Karting Assn. and IRL Stars of Karting National champion.

JOEL MILLER: 2006 ICA North American Champion; 2013 Rookie of the Year in Rolex Grand-Am Championship; driver coach.

SPENCER PIGOT: 2015 Indy Lights champion; 2014 Pro Mazda Champion; 2010 Skip Barber Racing Series National Champion.

JEFF PURNER: 1985 Skip Barber Racing Series Champion; 1990 IMSA Firestone Firehawk GS Champion; 1993 Trans-Am Rookie of the Year.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion and Indy Rookie of the Year; competed in five F1 races in 2015 before switching to IndyCar.

AMY RUMAN: 2015 and 2016 Trans-Am Champion; first female Trans-Am Champion in 50-year history of the Series.

JORDAN TAYLOR: 2013 DP-class Champion in Rolex Grand-Am Championship (with Max Angelelli).

RICKY TAYLOR: 2006 Skip Barber Karting Shootout Scholarship winner; competes with brother Jordan in  IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

AL UNSER JR.: 1981 Super Vee Champion; 1982 SCCA Can-Am Champion; two-time Indy 500 winner, 1992 and ’94; two-time IndyCar Champion, 1990 and ’94.

ALEX WURZ: Retired pro driver; two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner; F1 consultant, driver coach, president of GPDA.

JEFF ZWART: 1990 SCCA U.S. Pro Rally Open Class Champion; 2004 Baja 1000 Challenge Class Champion; Pikes Peak International Class Championships, 1994-98, 2002, 2010; directs high-performance TV commercials around the world.

Associate Members:

CRAIG BENNETT: 1987 SCCA National GT-1 Division Champion and Rookie of the Year; currently VP of RM Motorsports (high-end race-car/road-car restorations)

JOHN DOONAN: Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations since 2011; licensed race-car driver since 1995, competing in SCCA, IMSA, IndyCar, etc.

DOUG FEHAN: Program Manager for Corvette Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and 24 Hours of LeMans; raced a Chevelle stock car in USAC in late ’60s.

DON KITCH JR.: Veteran of more than 25 years and 200 pro and amateur racing starts; founded, with wife Donna, the ProFormance Racing School, where he is chief instructor; helped develop the Team Seattle “Heart of Racing” program at Alex Job Racing.

ED PINK: The drag-racing Hemi engines he’s built over 60-plus years have won races from Midgets to IndyCars; earned Lifetime Achievement Award from Petersen Automotive Museum; also built IMSA, LeMans and NASCAR engines.

Honorary members:

WALT CZARNECKI: Executive Vice President of Penske Corporation; Vice Chairman of the Board of Team Penske. 40-year-plus tenure with Penske.

CHRIS POOK: Creator of annual Grand Prix of Long Beach, in its 43rd year; has also created temporary racing venues in Las Vegas, Dallas, Meadowlands, N.J., Denver, Del Mar, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Fla. Served on the F1 Commission of FIA.

ANDREW SCRIVEN: Draftsman on 1984 Tiga Race Cars; produced the 1985 design for the GT285 IMSA Lights/C2 Car; currently is Chief Designer for Aerospace, Military and Racing projects for Crawford Composites, LLC.

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Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”