Category archive: Tony Kanaan

Rubens BarrichelloAP Photo/Andre PennerRubens Barrichello said racing on ovals is one of the challenges he's looking forward to in the Izod IndyCar Series.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Formula One's most experienced driver is switching to Indy cars.

Rubens Barrichello, with 322 F1 starts and 11 Grand Prix victories, confirmed Thursday in a news conference in Sao Paulo that he will contest the full 2012 Izod IndyCar Series season. The 39-year-old Brazilian will drive the No. 8 Dallara-Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology with sponsorship from Embrase.

KVRT also announced a two-year contract extension for Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, who is beginning his second season with the team. E.J. Viso will drive KVRT's third entry with a new sponsorship package from CITGO.

Barrichello tested KVRT's Dallara-Chevrolet at Sebring International Raceway from Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 and ran a subsequent test at Infineon Raceway later in February.

Kanaan and Barrichello are close friends (and godfather to each other's children), and Kanaan joked that he convinced Barrichello to test by tweeting him a picture of the new Dallara Indy car.

But he actually had been working on his friend to make the switch to American racing for quite some time.

"What people don't realize is how many years I've been bugging him to do this," Kanaan said. "It's been going on for the last three years. This year, with the unfortunate situation of not getting the job [with Williams F1], he accepted. But it's something I've been working on him for a long time.

"I knew he was going to love the car," Kanaan added. "He's a real racer, and he wants to win races. Over there he didn't have a chance. Here he will."

Barrichello is no stranger to Indy car racing, having attended several CART and IndyCar Series races over the past 15 years at venues including Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

His interest in competing in oval racing was questioned, especially after some of his remarks promising his family he would not compete on those tracks were widely publicized.

But Barrichello said Thursday that racing on ovals is a key attraction of the Indy car challenge.

"It's something very new to me, and even with 19 years of experience, I will start as a rookie," Barrichello said. "But I think I will get better as the year progresses. I will keep my feet on the ground and work as hard as I can.

"I am very competitive, so, of course, I want to do well," he added. "But how well I'm going to do, I guess we are going to see sometime soon."

KVRT co-owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven are hopeful the addition of Barrichello will elevate their team to the level of perennial Indy car powerhouses Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing.

"With Tony's expertise on ovals and Rubens' ability to set the car up for road courses, I think it's going to be a very powerful combination," said Vasser, who won the 1996 CART-sanctioned Indy car championship. "We do have the challenge of the ovals, but with Tony's experience and little bit of knowledge that I might be able to impart, I think Rubens will be just fine.

"The sky is the limit for our team, and I think victories are in our future."

News of Barrichello's confirmation for the full season was applauded by his IndyCar Series competitors.

"Great news," four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti said. "I think the competition level just went up again."

"It's good for the series, and you can only see it going up," said Will Power. "New car, new teams, even greater depth in driver talent. I think it's great."

Perhaps the happiest person about Barrichello's announcement was INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard, who unexpectedly has an additional worldwide star (and more than 1.4 million Twitter followers) on board.

Bernard has compared Barrichello's arrival in Indy cars to those of former F1 world champions Emerson Fittipaldi (in 1984) and Nigel Mansell (1993).

"It's an exciting day for the IZOD IndyCar Series and a positive step to start 2012," Bernard said. "We've said all along that one of the most important factors that will make the IZOD IndyCar Series successful is having the best drivers in the world, and there's not a person in the world who knows racing that wouldn't tell you that Rubens Barrichello is one of the greatest drivers of all time.

"I think it's been interesting to hear the response of the other drivers," Bernard added. "It's been, 'This is great for us because it will show how good all of our drivers are.'"

Barrichello's first Indy car race is the March 25 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 field, Carb Day 2011 lacked drama.

And that's just the way they like it.

In ideal cool, cloudy conditions, the field completed an incident-free hour of practice. Now everyone gets to recalibrate for race day, when temperatures are expected to approach 90 degrees for the second year in a row.

Last year, a hot race played into the hands of Target Ganassi Racing -- specifically Dario Franchitti, who dominated the 500 on the way to victory.

The Target team certainly looked good this year on Carb Day, as Scott Dixon and Franchitti ran first and third.

"I love Carb Day," Franchitti said. "You can have the best car all month, then show up on Carb Day and the thing is just terrible. I've had one smooth Carb Day in however many years I've done this race, and that was last year, when I parked the thing and went to my bus happy.

"We were 1-2 on Carb Day and the race was hot too, and it just put our cars in the sweet spot," he added. "Had it been the same temperature as before, we might not have had the same advantage or any advantage at all. We may have had to change the setup completely. That's one of the tough things about Indy -- you practice, practice, practice at the same temperature, and if it changes for the race you have to start over again. That's where the experience comes in, from the team or from the driver."

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Alex Tagliani
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAlex Tagliani starts from the pole on Sunday, and he was second in Friday's Carb Day practice.

Dixon has been a tick quicker than Franchitti all week and that trend continued on Carb Day. The 2008 Indy winner's quick lap of 225.474 mph was a full 0.7 mph faster than pole qualifier Alex Tagliani and Franchitti.

"It felt good, but we'll see what the weather brings," Dixon said. "It's always more difficult in the race. If you're in traffic it's a lot more difficult to stay close to the car, because you get less grip from the tires and less grip from the wings."

AJ Foyt Racing enjoyed a productive Carb Day, placing Vitor Meira fourth and controversial addition Ryan Hunter-Reay seventh. Meanwhile Team Penske's fastest representative was three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in ninth. Will Power was 12th fastest and Ryan Briscoe was 15th, all in the 223 mph bracket.

Dixon tabbed Tagliani as the dark horse to watch on Sunday.

"Obviously Tag has done a hell of a job this month and it's good to see their team [Sam Schmidt Motorsports] working so well," Dixon said. "You never know until you get to the race, but he's a good friend and I'm glad to see what he's achieved. He's put together a team that can mix it up with the big boys."

The unquestioned feel-good story of the month, Tagliani vowed to create a happy ending.

"It's been an amazing week," Tagliani said. "Fortunately we rolled the car out of the trailer fast and every day we were strong. It's a pleasure to drive a very competitive car.

"Seems to me it's just unreal. It's too good to be true, but I'd like to think we deserve it. Maybe we did everything better than everything else and hopefully it will continue."

The history of the Indianapolis 500 includes countless episodes of David triumphing over Goliath. Can Tagliani add to that legacy on the 100th anniversary of the great race?

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Two rounds into the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the jury has delivered a split verdict on INDYCAR's newly implemented double-file restarts.

Fans seem to have enjoyed the wheel-banging action, rising to their feet for every restart in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and tuning in on television for INDYCAR's best TV rating for a race other than the Indianapolis 500 in more than three years.

On the other hand, even after modifications for last weekend's event at Barber Motorsport Park, some competitors have grumbled about the restart procedures and team owners can't be especially happy about the bills they are paying for wrecked cars.

But looking back at St. Petersburg and Barber, the double-wide restarts have been mostly positive for the series. Both races featured first-lap accidents, but they occurred on the actual start of the events, not a restart. Some drivers have taken advantage, while others have fallen asleep at the wheel and fallen victim.

INDYCAR chief steward Brian Barnhart convened a driver's meeting at Barber that, in a series first, was opened up to the media. In the meeting, Barnhart revealed that the drivers would be allowed to start accelerating earlier when approaching a restart (325 yards instead of 200 at St. Pete) and that the restart speed would be increased.

Reaction to the changes from the drivers was generally upbeat.

"We probably got a better exchange of ideas and information, and a better understanding of what the needs are from both points of view than we ever have," said 2008 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was crashed out during the chaotic race start at St. Petersburg. "But the drivers need to actually listen to the changes.

"The problem is, when the green flag drops, we all get a bit stupid."

"It's a learning process for everyone involved," Barnhart said. "We've made a pretty radical change from how things have been done for over a decade. They're going to have to adapt and improvise."

Both races were marred by a series of full-course cautions following accidents on restarts, lending credibility to the old adage "cautions breed cautions." But some drivers were keeping all four wheels on their cars and made considerable progress through the field as a result of their aggression and the misfortune of others.

At Barber, Tony Kanaan gained 10 places on the race start and the first restart after a poor qualifying performance left the Brazilian starting from the back of the 26-car field.

"We stayed out of trouble, and especially nowadays with the double-file restarts, that's what you've got to do," Kanaan said. "For the fans and the racing, the restarts looked more exciting.

"I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. I mean, every restart had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one had a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there. It's 50-50 right now."

Championship leader Will Power has run at the front of the field in both races, leading at Barber from start to finish. He was therefore not involved in the fracas breaking out behind him, but he's still not a fan of the new restarts.

"Talking to the majority of the drivers, we don't like it because of the encounters it causes, but at the end of the day we can make it work by giving each other respect and room," Power said. "Maybe if we go a little earlier it will spread things out. The more you spread them out, the safer it is."

One thing everyone is in agreement about: double-file restarts could produce mass destruction at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, thanks to the long Shoreline Drive straight leading into a very tight first-gear first corner.

Rumors persist that INDYCAR officials will shelve the two-wide restarts this weekend because of the layout of the first turn on the Long Beach street course.

"The restarts are my biggest worry at that track, into Turn 1," Power said. "It's going to be worse than St. Pete."

"I agree with that," added Dixon. "I think the style of the Barber track lends itself to a cleaner style. I think Long Beach is going to be a different story."

SPARTA, Ky. -- Maybe the Indy Racing League should shake things up a bit more often.

While implementing new aerodynamic options and introducing a mild push-to-pass system -- and doing so with a minimum of track time for the drivers to practice with it -- the IndyCar Series put on a race at Kentucky Speedway every bit on par with the best contests in the 14-year history of the league.

Sure, the evil Team Penske empire won again, this time with Ryan Briscoe behind the wheel. But to do it, they had to overcome a breakout performance from Vision Racing and Ed Carpenter, who came within 0.0162 seconds of stealing the show after driving the race of his life.

In a formula renowned for photo finishes, this one was the 11th closest in series history, not to mention the second fastest event ever in any form of American open-wheel circuit racing, with a 200.893 mph average.

"The old IRL is back on the superspeedways," declared third-place finisher Tony Kanaan.

Without question, this was the IndyCar Series' most entertaining race of the season, one that had the crowd, estimated at 48,000, on its feet for the last 10 laps as Briscoe and Carpenter ran side by side.

Both drivers had done a masterful job of saving their limited number of push-to-pass opportunities, yet ultimately, Briscoe was able to make the longer high line work as he edged Carpenter by about five feet at the line.

"I don't know if I was imagining that Ed Carpenter was getting wider and wider every lap," Briscoe said. (He wasn't imagining it.) "It looked like every lap I'd get the edge on him across the start/finish line, but it was getting harder and harder as Ed was getting wider and wider.

"Unbelievable," he added. "That was a fun race. There was a lot of racing out there and it was pretty intense."

Amen to that, after an IndyCar season that had degenerated into a series of follow-the-leader parades, apparently no matter what kind of racetrack.

There's no way of determining whether it was the 5-horsepower overtake option, the selection of seemingly insignificant aero mods, the recently graded surface of the 1.5-mile Kentucky oval, or even the fluky cancellation of Friday practice and qualifications after the track wouldn't dry out on a perfect, sunny day.

But the excitement returned to Indy car racing Saturday night.

"I hope the fans enjoyed it, because there were definitely some races this year where we didn't deliver the goods," Carpenter said.

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Ryan Briscoe
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeRyan Briscoe had to feel good about winning the closest race of the season.

Carpenter, the stepson of recently deposed Indy Racing League founder and Vision Racing co-owner Tony George, was a revelation in his Menards-sponsored car. One of the few drivers in the IndyCar Series who came through the oval short-track ranks was in his element as he led a career-high 34 laps.

After starting 14th based on entrant points, Carpenter moved up to fourth place by Lap 30, and press-box pundits figured he worked his way up there by burning through most of his 20 push-to-pass ration. But it turned out the bright yellow Vision car was simply hooked up.

"It's been a tough year, and I was hoping this was going to be a breakout race to try to get our season turned around," Carpenter said. "I was giving Ryan all I had, and the team did a great job in pits, keeping up with the Penske and Ganassi teams as it cycled through the stops under the green. I was trying to keep up my end of the bargain."

Carpenter and Briscoe ran the last 10 laps alongside each other, veering alarmingly close on occasion on the run out of Turn 4 to the line.

"It was fun on a mile-and-a-half to run that close to a Penske car," Carpenter said with grin. "We ran side-by-side for I don't know how many laps there at the end of the race. I actually used my last push-to-pass on the last lap, so I managed that fairly well. I was trying to run wide and make him go the long way around and just make it a little harder and he was trying to pinch me down. Neither of us were gonna lift. It was close."

Close, but no cigar. Still, Carpenter raved about the morale boost that he hopes the result will provide the Vision team.

"I've always known I can win one of these, and getting that close, now I absolutely, positively, know I can win one of these races," he said. "It's a little harder to swallow when you're that close. It's not every day that happens. That was definitely the most fun I've had in a long time. It's been a tough year for our team and a rough couple of months for our family.

"I think if we would have pushed each other any more, Tony [Kanaan] would have won," he added. "I'd rather finish second than crash someone trying to win a race. I tried to race Ryan as clean as possible. It doesn't do anybody any good to race somebody dirty."

Kanaan, who has suffered a series of crashes and a pair of pit-lane fires in 2009, was happy just to get his season back on track. But he was even more pleased that the IndyCar Series put on a good show.

"I think we were all concerned about the package," he said. "We worked with the league to have more downforce and with Honda to have push-to-pass. I still think we need a couple more changes to be the way it was in the past.

"But if we wanted a photo finish, we got it. We're moving in the right direction for sure on the superspeedways."

The win vaulted Briscoe into the IndyCar Series championship lead, 8 points ahead of defending series champion Scott Dixon (finished seventh at Kentucky) and 11 points up on Dixon's Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, who was sixth Saturday night.

Five races remain in the 2009 campaign, beginning Sunday with the Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

"This has been one of those years where no one can hang on to the points lead," Briscoe said. "So it's close. We're not going to get too content yet. I think we'll be strong at the upcoming road courses, but Dixon and Franchitti will be strong, too.

"We just have to keep finishing in front of those guys, keep our heads down, keep working hard and keep pushing forward."

Hopefully with some exciting racing, similar to what was on display Saturday night at Kentucky, along the way.