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.”