A look at Kanaan and Ganassi, and another coming year of TCGR dominance.
What can you say about Friday’s announcement by Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull that Tony Kanaan would assume the No. 10 Target Dallara/Cheverolet/Firestone IndyCar Series contract and Ryan Briscoe would return to the No. 8 NTT Data Indy car that Kanaan originally signed to drive next year and beyond?
Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Kanaan has had a circuitous history in his open wheel career, racing for small, medium, huge and medium teams before joining Chip Ganassi Racing, where he was poised to drive in 2009 before best friend Dario Franchitti came back from his Ganassi NASCAR experiment to knock down three straight IndyCar crowns, succeeding teammate Scott Dixon, who’s newly taken his third championship with the Target Ganassi team.
This was a union Ganassi and Hull must have wanted for a long time and only reneged on when Franchitti expressed a will to return to Indy car wars. They’d signed TK to partner his pal and then Houston happened to mess it all up.
Kanaan’s most recent championship-caliber team was Andretti Autosport, which was where he earned his 2004 championship. It certainly wasn’t KV Racing Technology, where he took his 500 win, finally. The balance of the season, TK and engineer Eric Cowdin (they’ve been together since Kanaan’s Firestone Indy Lights career with Tasman Motorsports) made the best of what they had - which wan’t championship caliber. They knew it as did the balance of the Indy car community.
Briscoe, who’d been filling in on the Panther team - and was signed with them for next year - after losing his Team Penske ride at the end of 2012, also seemed a no-brainer to come to the fourth car once the dominoes started falling. He’d tested with Ganassi in 2004 while still a test driver for Toyota’s F1 team (at the time Target Ganassi Racing had Toyota engines in their Dallara Indy car chassis). The Aussie drove for Ganassi in its final Toyota season, 2005, went to Dreyer & Reinbold, Luzco-Dragon Racing and seemed to have a home with Team Penske from 2008 through 2012.
In the 2009 season, Briscoe came one large mistake away from taking the IndyCar Series championship but finished third, a great disappointment to him and, of course the Penske team. Roger Penske stuck with the eight-race winner for another few years but cast him back into the water in 2013.
Ganassi is taking another chance, along with NTT Data, who backed Briscoe in May at the Brickyard. After starting 21st in the 97th Indianapolis 500, Briscoe drove to a credible 12th place in a rollicking race, second on the four-car squad behind Charlie Kimball’s telling ninth place result. As Hull told me after the announcement, “Ryan was the best driver we could get and NTT Data is pleased to back him once more.”
There’s a certain culture about Ganassi’s teams. From his Indy car to his sports car to his NASCAR Sprint Cup squads, the emphasis is always on teamwork. That’s why many of the drivers turn up at Daytona for the Rolex 24 each January, in an attempt to help the vaunted No. 01 keep its winning ways and to, perhaps, beat it with the No. 02. That race requires at least three drivers; Ganassi normally uses four to keep everyone fresh, so we’ve seen the Indy car boys augmenting the NASCAR guys and it’s all worked out.
The four-car IndyCar Series Ganassi team is now set - and we can likely expect to see all of them at Daytona - and it looks like a group that should gell pretty darn well. With their vast experience and winning ways, Chip Ganassi Racing looks set to be successful once again. By adding two drivers that have wide experience with Chevrolet engines, Ganassi increases his ability to move forward now that he’s part of the Bow-Tie Brigade.
The rest of the paddock ought to watch out.