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IndyCar: Tony Kanaan feeling re-energized, reinvigorated with move to A.J. Foyt Racing

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Tony Kanaan may be 43 now, but he’s acting as if he’s 23.

The veteran IndyCar driver has been re-energized and reinvigorated with his off-season move to A.J. Foyt Racing.

Sure, this is his 21st season in Indy car competition, but Kanaan feels he’s in the right place and the right situation to not only regain some of his luster of old, but also to help turn around a team that has struggled for far too long.

“I’ve driven for a number of big names, including Michael Andretti and Chip Ganassi,” Kanaan told MotorSportsTalk. “Now, to drive for A.J., it’s been a dream come true, to be honest.

“I’m going to be one of the few drivers that can say how many motor racing legends I’ve driven for in my life. With A.J., it’s been a great experience – extremely colorful at times, I should say, because he’s A.J. (he said with a laugh).

“The best way to put it is at this stage of my career, it’s really cool I got to do this. Obviously, there are a lot more things that have to come with it, like being successful and making the team successful, but this is one of those things that I can really say, ‘Man, this is really cool that I got to do it.’”

Kanaan moved to A.J. Foyt Racing after his contract expired with Chip Ganassi Racing, for whom he had raced for the previous four seasons.

It was a tough cut for Ganassi, but he had to trim his four-team organization to just two for 2018. Some observers felt that could be the end of the road for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

But Foyt threw the veteran driver from Brazil a lifeline, knowing that Kanaan could bring a great deal to the team, particularly since Kanaan has been one of the most consistent drivers in IndyCar over the years.

From 2003 through 2017, Kanaan won one championship (2004), the Indianapolis 500 (2013), finished six times in the top-five, eight other times in the top-10 and has never finished lower than 11th (including last season).

Foyt felt Kanaan still had a lot of tread left on his tires and signed him to a multi-year deal. Not only would it be good for the team to have a former champion as a motivator, he also would serve as a great mentor to young teammate and fellow Brazilian Matheus Leist (photo above), who is 19.

The pair clicked immediately, which could immediately be seen in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Kanaan and Leist were consistently among the top runners in practice and qualifying and showed great promise heading into the race.

Unfortunately, Leist got into an early crash, ending his day (finished 24th), but Kanaan soldiered on to an 11th place finish.

It was the latest chapter in the evolution of A.J. Foyt Racing. The team made a concerted effort in the offseason to not only bring in Kanaan and Leist, but invested a significant amount of capital to not only grow the organization, but to improve equipment and expand behind the scenes personnel.

All for one very big reason.

“The expectations are high, but we have to keep our feet on the ground,” Kanaan said. “As soon as I joined the team, one of the first things I told A.J. is ‘we have to turn this situation around.’

“He wasn’t happy with the results, the team wasn’t doing well, we brought a bunch of new people in, it was a huge change. But huge changes sometimes take times.

“We performed as good as we wanted to do and as we expected in the first race in practice and qualifying at least. Obviously, we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the race, racing is racing, but the expectations are high.”

Kanaan welcomes the challenge to bring the Foyt organization back to prominence. It’s been a long time coming, indeed: the last driver for Foyt to finish in the top 10 was another Brazilian driver, Airton Dare, who ended up ninth in 2002.

“For this year, my goal is to get a couple podium finishes, maybe a race win, but if we finish in the top eight in the championship, that’ll be a huge improvement from last year,” Kanaan said.

By comparison, Foyt’s two drivers in 2017 struggled. Carlos Munoz finished 16th in the final standings, while Conor Daly was 18th.

But Kanaan is also realistic. He knows he and Leist aren’t going to turn things around overnight.

“You can’t expect in IndyCar, with all the good teams and good drivers, you can’t say we’re going to come in and dominate in one year,” Kanaan said. “It’s going to take time.

“But as long as we’re moving forward and keep improving, that’s what A.J. wants and that’s what we need to do.”

His overall performance at St. Petersburg has Kanaan especially looking forward to the next two races.

In five career starts at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix, Kanaan has two wins (2003 and 2004), three podiums and one pole, along with an outstanding average finish of 3.0 (he’s never finished lower than sixth, which came in last year’s race).

“Phoenix is a race that I’ve done well at so many times,” Kanaan said. “We had a great test in February, so I’m expecting a lot of good things coming out there.”

His record at Long Beach hasn’t been as successful, with just one podium finish (third in 2009). But in nine overall starts on the popular street course, Kanaan – who finished 15th there last year, one lap down – has four top-fives and two other top-10s.

“Long Beach is always a fun place to go, a beautiful place to race, it’s a race that is extremely popular,” Kanaan said. “It’s the beginning of the championship that you want to start off on the right foot, so I’m expecting big things and good results at both races.

“We already had a pretty strong first race weekend, so we’re going to try and keep the momentum going.”

Kanaan is also quick to point out that he’s looking forward to spending several more seasons in IndyCar with Foyt because of the momentum the series has right now.

“You see how many more new teams we have, how many more new sponsors and our new TV package (with NBC from 2019-2021) is great for the future now,” Kanaan said. “We’ve survived and IndyCar is on the upswing, big-time, for sure. That’s what I see.”

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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