Tony Kanaan has ride with KV Racing

INDIANAPOLIS -- This year's IndyCar field has been strengthened by the news that 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan has secured a full-time ride with the KV Racing Technology-Lotus team.

Kanaan will pilot a GEICO Insurance-sponsored car for KVRT-Lotus that will carry the number 82 in homage to Jim Clark's famous victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in a Lotus-Ford. The team is also fielding full-time entries for Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso.

"I think Tony is a great addition to our team," KVRT-Lotus co-owner Jimmy Vasser said. "Along with Taku and EJ, he gives KVRT–Lotus a very strong driver line-up, one I am sure can compete for podium finishes and race wins."

Kanaan's 2004 championship season was one of the most dominant in the 15-year history of IndyCar. The 36-year old Brazilian has won
15 series races in 225 starts dating to 1998, including one under CART sanction at Michigan Speedway in 1999.

The driver known as 'TK' drove for Andretti Autosport in the IndyCar Series from 2003 to 2010 but accepted an early buyout to his contract when primary sponsor 7-11 opted to drop its backing. Kanaan then signed to compete in 2011 for de Ferran Dragon Racing, but that team ceased operations last month when it could not obtain financial support to field an entry.

"Jimmy and I started talking about joining forces at the end of last season, but the timing was not ideal and I ended up signing with Gil [de Ferran]," Kanaan said in a statement released by the team. "When I became a free agent in mid-February, calling Vasser seemed like a natural thing to do since KVRT was one of the top teams still looking for a driver."

"Jimmy and I go back a long way," Kanaan added. "We were rivals during the CART days, but more than that, we have always been good friends, which helped a lot with our negotiations. I'm thrilled that we reached an agreement."

Kanaan is one of three former IndyCar champions who will be part of the IndyCar Series this year, joining 2008 champion Scott Dixon and two-time defending titlist Dario Franchitti. Previous series champion Dan Wheldon is still on the sideline, while 2003 CART champion Paul Tracy is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to drive for Conquest Racing.

The IndyCar season begins Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of St.
Petersburg (ABC, 12:30 p.m. ET).

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.