Tony Kanaan has found a new home.
After eight seasons with Andretti Autosport, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion and long-time fan favorite will replace Raphael Matos in the No. 2 De Ferran Dragon Racing machine next season. IndyCar.com is reporting that a second DFDragon car for 2011 may materialize if sponsorship can be found.
Kanaan’s tenure with Andretti Autosport ended earlier this off-season after his longtime primary backer, 7-Eleven, decided to end its sponsorship. The Brazilian driver left the team shortly afterwards.
Since then, he’s been on a quest for sponsorship funding that would get him on the grid and it appears he’s succeeded — his sponsorship package will be announced in the new year. Now, Kanaan will have an even more Merry Christmas.
“For sure, I couldn’t come in at a better time,” he said. “Being a father, trying to explain to my kid, I was going to ask Santa for a gift as well. I was trying to be mentally prepared to spend Christmas and New Year’s thinking about what kind of car I was going to drive next year. [Team owner] Gil [de Ferran] made that easier for me.
“Now I’m happy to explain to my son that Gil is not Santa Claus, but somebody that gave me what I wanted anyway.”
Gil de Ferran, a former two-time CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, said that the addition of Kanaan to his team raises the expectations for his squad. But de Ferran has also been in such a situation, when he joined Team Penske in 2000.
“This is, frankly, a little bit similar,” said de Ferran. “Having Tony around, I think we were able to secure one of the best talents in the series. I was really excited, frankly, when I felt there was an opportunity to sign him up. I think it really makes it clear to everyone what we’re trying to do with the team and the type of results we would like to get in the future. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have tried as we can to secure Tony’s service.”
It’ll certainly be a different atmosphere that Kanaan will have to get used to. Instead of being the de facto team leader of a four-car armada, he now appears to be the main man at a currently single-car operation. So far, he seems to like the change.
“Obviously, it has been eight, almost nine years with a big team, so it took me a little bit to get used to it,” he said. “But in a funny way, I think it’s great…I’m enjoying every moment of it. Everything downsized three times for me right now.”
However, the downsizing also leads to the question of whether or not he’ll have to temper his goals. But while Kanaan admitted that he and Gil were “going to be realistic,” he also said that they’re ready to construct a contender.
“The goal is to build the team and the attitude of the team that we’re capable of winning,” said Kanaan, who recorded one win (Iowa) and seven top-5s in his final campaign last year with Andretti. “…We have a big challenge ahead of us. But we have the attitude of winners. We have Gil, who doesn’t need any introduction, and myself with all the results that we had.
“The goal is to go win races. The more races you win, you put yourself in a position to go win championships.”
Quotes were taken from today’s IZOD IndyCar Series teleconference.