Photo: A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Kanaan set for next stage of IndyCar career with Foyt

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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.”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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