Photo: A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Kanaan set for next stage of IndyCar career with Foyt

Leave a comment

A.J. Foyt is one of the greatest drivers in racing history and at Indianapolis. Tony Kanaan has become one of the ultimate fan favorites in IndyCar and at Indianapolis.

And together, they’ll have a couple years together to see if they can add to their respective legends.

Kanaan has made 16 Indianapolis 500 starts – not quite halfway to Foyt’s number of 35, all consecutive from 1958 through 1992 – but has established himself as the firm fan favorite of his generation, and as one of the best driver’s in the race’s history.

On the whole, he needed a fresh start as team leader and Foyt’s team, which opted for an all-youth strategy in 2017 with Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz, needed a tandem pairing of Kanaan and longtime engineer Eric Cowdin to help attempt to turn their respective fortunes around.

The mountain is steep to do so given the level of competition in the series. Foyt’s only won once from 2003 through 2017, when Takuma Sato broke through at Long Beach in 2013. Kanaan, usually a driver who won at least once a year for the majority of his IndyCar career, hasn’t won since Fontana in 2014.

The hope is for both parties on a level aero playing field with all cars going to the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit, rather than split between the Honda and Chevrolet aero kits, will be an ideal scenario.

There’s a multi-year deal in place for Kanaan, announced Thursday, which gives them a bit of time to work it out as he heads into career season number 21 and beyond, and adds Foyt to the list of teams he’s driven for.

“I think that’s why we got together. We both needed a change,” Kanaan said.

“We both needed some boosts to put this team in Victory Lane, and we’re doing everything we can. We have just a great sponsor backing us with ABC that’s been with the team for 14 years, and they’re giving us every tool that they can to be able to make it happen.

“I think with the new car, like everybody starting from scratch, I think that’s our chance. It’s our chance to get ahead of the game with all the resources that we have and the people that we have working for us, and to put it back there. We both need it to go back to Victory Lane, and that’s why there’s a reason that we actually came together with this partnership to be able to do it.”

Team director Larry Foyt said Kanaan’s 20-plus years experience – nearly all of them with Cowdin save for a couple years when Cowdin went to Team Penske or was on another car at Chip Ganassi Racing – will pay dividends.

“Obviously he’s got a lot of experiences, which is going to really pay with this new aero kit and figuring that out quickly, but the one thing I think Tony and I when we started talking about this, we looked at each other, and it’s a lot of trust between each other,” Larry Foyt said.

“I had to know Tony is not just trying to ride out his last years, that he’s going to give 110 percent, and wants to know that we’re going to put all our resources into the race team to give him a chance to win, and that’s exactly the trust that we had to — I think when we looked each other in the eye, we both knew that this was what we wanted to do and our goals were aligned, and that’s why we think it’s going to work.”

Kanaan is excited for the full season journey that lies ahead, and particularly for Indianapolis – where A.J. is the closest thing to the “king” there.

He joked during the official press conference earlier today that he gets grief on his golf cart from the legendary/infamous Indianapolis Motor Speedway security guards – the “Yellow Shirts” – while A.J. can drive his golf cart anywhere on the grounds with no issues.

Once he gets past the cool component of riding with Foyt on a golf cart, Kanaan wants to return the No. 14 to an Indianapolis 500 victory lane for the first time since 1999 when Kenny Brack did so. Kanaan, of course, famously won the 2013 race with KV Racing Technology.

“I think out of all the numbers that I’ve driven through my career, that is definitely the one that puts a lot more pressure on me, so I’m going to have to make sure that I keep up the tradition of that number and hopefully we will do that,” Kanaan said.

“But we’ll definitely — I was thinking about that the other day. I mean, I can’t wait for opening day at the 500 and put the 14 car to do a lap like that, especially me driving. Having garage 1 for me, it’s like — it’s kind of cool.

“It’s one of those things that I’ve always looked around and said, AJ can do this here, AJ can do that. He basically owns the Speedway, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep the 14 where it belongs.”

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.