A Curious Move, At Best

While it has yet to be officially announced, we all know that Tony Kanaan is now headed to AJ Foyt Enterprises for 2018. Who he will be displacing is not clear, although smarter people than me are saying that Carlos Muñoz will be the odd man out. That means Kanaan will be driving the famous No.14 car and Conor Daly will most likely be driving the not-so-famous No.4. But that’s speculation on one of the many questions surrounding this move.

I’m still not sure what I think about all of this. I’m a huge Tony Kanaan fan and I’ve been a lifelong fan of AJ Foyt. With Helio Castroneves seemingly headed to Team Penske’s sports car team, Tony Kanaan is without question my favorite among the current crop of drivers. AJ Foyt is my all-time favorite driver. Period. He’s not just my favorite IndyCar driver – it transcends all racing series. I also consider him the greatest all-around driver that ever strapped on a helmet. Ayrton Senna is a close second, but he never raced ovals.

So you would think that I would be ecstatic about my favorite current driver, going to drive for my favorite driver of all-time. Well, no I’m not.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way – I think Tony Kanaan can still drive a race car very competitively. What we saw most of this past season is not indicative of what Tony Kanaan has become as a driver. His last three races, he had finishes of sixteenth, twentieth and sixteenth, respectively. That pretty well sums up his fourth and final season at Chip Ganassi Racing.

While Kanaan had Top-Ten finishes at Barber (seventh), Phoenix (sixth), the Indianapolis 500 (fifth), Detroit (tenth), Texas (second), Iowa (ninth) and Pocono (fifth); there were nine races with finishes of fifteenth or worse. But I still maintain that was due to bad luck and the bad circumstances surrounding Chip Ganassi than diminished skills. Although Scott Dixon was only three points from the championship lead heading into the final weekend, this was not your normal Ganassi team. From what I understand, there was dissension at practically every corner. Bad chemistry within a team usually translates to poor results.

If you’ll recall, a few weeks ago I predicted that Kanaan would take over the seat in the No.7 car at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports vacated by Mikhail Aleshin. That was partly because I thought Kanaan wanted to stay with Honda and I thought a paring with James Hinchcliffe on a team that had won a couple of races over the last three seasons made sense. While that seat is still open, all signs point to Kanaan driving a Chevy-powered car for AJ Foyt – a team with only one victory (Takuma Sato in 2013 at Long Beach) in the past fifteen seasons.

My question is…what happened? Did no other teams have any interest in signing a former series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner that is one of the most popular drivers in the series? I hate to be blunt, but AJ Foyt Enterprises is where careers go to die. Takuma Sato made it out of there to become an Indianapolis 500 champion and Ryan Hunter-Reay survived a partial season at Foyt to win the “500” and become a series champion; but they are the exception – not the norm.

Jack Hawksworth, Vitor Miera, Darren Manning, Felipe Giaffone and Eliseo Salazar are just a few of the drivers that had once-promising careers, but never drove an Indy car again after leaving the Foyt stable.

For the past few seasons, each year we hear in the offseason about all of the positive changes that Larry Foyt has made at his father’s team and that next season could be their year. But when next season rolls around, it’s the same old stuff. After a while, you learn to simply tune out the offseason sunshine regarding the Foyt team.

Somewhere I read where Kanaan was quoted as saying he had always wanted to drive for AJ Foyt and this was finally his chance. I also read where Foyt considered Kanaan one of the few current drivers that had earned his respect because he wasn’t a crybaby and had come up the hard way and drove his heart out. So there is mutual respect and excitement from both sides.

Maybe this will be different. For one thing, there is no pressure or burden of expectations. Many of you were quick to point out Monday that JR Hildebrand had impossible shoes to fill when he replaced Josef Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing. No disrespect intended for either of the two Foyt drivers for 2017, but Kanaan does not really have a tough act to follow. In short, the pressure is off.

Tony Kanaan may be the best driver that AJ Foyt has had to drive for him since, well…AJ Foyt. Kanaan has nothing to lose other than the respect of Foyt, which probably won’t happen. If Kanaan produces poor results, well…it was expected of the team. If he wins or has a string of solid finishes; it’s great for Foyt and for Kanaan who would probably love to show Chip Ganassi that he was not the problem. With no pressure, 2018 could end up being one of the most fun seasons of Kanaan’s IndyCar career.

One thing I keep hearing is that the main problem with Foyt’s team is that they are starving for good engineers. Perhaps Kanaan’s longtime engineer and friend, Eric Cowdin, will join Kanaan at Foyt. That certainly couldn’t hurt – especially heading into this era without different aero kits. Every team will be starting out with the same amount of data. Starting out with a top-notch engineer like Cowdin could be a big shot in the arm to the team that struggled mightily in their first year with the Chevy aero kit this past season.

If predictions are true and Conor Daly stays with Foyt, having Kanaan as a teammate and an engineer like Cowdin on the staff can’t hurt either. Daly showed an upward trend in the last five races of the season, with finishes of tenth, fourteenth, fifth, eleventh and tenth. Normally that would not get anyone’s attention, but when you compare that stretch with the rest of the season, it was a marked improvement. With Kanaan in the final stages of his IndyCar career, I’m thinking he would be more than willing to serve as a mentor to the young Conor Daly.

So while I was puzzled and even frustrated when I learned that Tony Kanaan was headed to AJ Foyt Enterprises, I’m beginning to sort out the positives from a fan standpoint. This could be a win-win for all involved. Hopefully, this is not where Tony Kanaan’s career goes to die.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “A Curious Move, At Best”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Thanks for blogging. I enjoyed it as usual.

  2. Another good read but I disagree, in fact I disagree with a lot of people when I say that I am god tired of Castroneves and Kanaan being out there, especially after this past year. Tony at Foyt should be interesting but, c’mon guys, give it up already! Tony is not likely to win a race ever again and Helio is never going to win a title.

    While I think the sport needs these guys, eventually you have to give way to the next guys. Years ago I heard mumbles of people saying I can’t watch Indycar without Lonestar JR out there, well, he had to give way eventually. Then we got Zanardi, Vasser, DeFerran etc for the 90’s, those guys gave way for another crop, Power, Dixon, Wheldon. We can’t have Gordon Johncock at 82 out there driving just because we will miss him, those days are gone.

    So let Tony have his Foyt season and then hopefully he goes away and takes Helio with him. Not that I am trying to get on people here but we have a brand new champion and a lot of the Indycar news I read is all about the 40 somethings like Tony and Helio. I expect to read about the field on here, I am talking though the mainstream media.

  3. Foyt is where careers go to die. TK has 1 win in 4 years with the best or second best team in IndyCar. The results will be disappointing.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Would it appear, looking at the ever present rotating door, that careers go to diminish at Ganassi?

      • I don’t think CGR has had much turnover. Dixon has been there since 2002, TK since 2014, and Kimball since 2011. The fourth car has had some, but that seems reasonable since its drivers generally bring their own sponsorship.

        Careers don’t seem to diminish at CGR either. Dixon is still elite. TK’s oval performance has been as good as it was before CGR, and his street course finishes have improved, but his road course finishes are still suspect. Kimball has never been a consistent threat, so I don’t think his career has diminished.

        • Bruce Waine Says:

          What are the number of drivers that have remained once the Pay for Ride drivers have been removed from the tally of those who have actually remained for any reasonable time ……………. And the rotating door keeps squeaking

  4. I clicked “other” because always to be considered in matters such as these is what the wife thinks.

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    Win…………. Win scenario. Win for Tony & win for Foyt.

    It has been mentioned in other motorsport sites that Tony will be bringing several people with him to Foyt.

    Given the continued strong support from ABC Supply’s sponsorship, there is reason to give 2018 a positive outlook for A J, Larry and the team.

    This year (2017) the team did improve. And with what Tony & his people will add to the mix for 2018, we anticipate continued positive results.

    Results on equal footing to Penske ?

    No. But perhaps more aligned now in 2018 being able to attain on track results similar SPM, RLL or Ganassi.

    The ‘new’ 2018 car starts most all teams off on new setups.

    Tony and his people joining forces with and in conjunction with A J & Larry’s people will provide for great competitive racing and positive 2018 results.

    Check back in a year……………… :o)

  6. billytheskink Says:

    My guess is that Foyt was where Kanaan 1.) was definitely wanted and 2.) could get paid. The 2nd SPM seat appears to be chasing money right now, which would seem to pose a challenge for TK. I think the best we can hope for in this pairing is for Kanaan’s veteran savvy to give Foyt’s team improved results over their recent history. As competitive as Indycar is in this day and age, that could very well include wins.

    All drivers hit a point in their careers where getting a ride in top-level equipment becomes difficult, some retire or move to another type of racing and some “slum” it with a less competitive team because they love racing that much. Castroneves hit that point and chose the former, Kanaan the same and chose the latter. I don’t struggle with either decision.

  7. While the 2018 cars will start off with equal setups, most teams will have some button-down guy with a tablet looking over the aero. Foyt’s team will still have a guy in denim laying out a toe dolly and ding hammer next to the aero. Twas ever thus.

  8. George I’m with you on being a huge TK fan, but I think there’s a more clear-cut reason for why he’s going to Foyt: It’s his only option. I don’t think other owners share your perspective on where Tony is at this point in his career, and as much as I hate to say it, I respectably differ from your assessment as well.

    There’s no disputing the toxic environment at Ganassi last season, but from what I saw, I just can’t chalk all Tony’s track issues up to bad luck. On more than one occasion I think we simply saw driver error. I’ll be the first to defend this guy for rarely turning a bad wheel in a two-decade career, but there were times this year where we saw mishaps we weren’t accustomed to seeing from Tony.

    If he had more money to bring to the table, perhaps SPM would have shown more interest, but where else? Not logical to put him in Ed’s #20 for the non-ovals. All but one of Tony’s career wins have come on ovals.

    I just don’t think there were any other seats or any other interested parties. So as much as I don’t think I’ll enjoy watching TK ride around at the back of the pack for a year, I’m glad he landed somewhere. It would have been tough for this fan to lose Tony and Helio in the same season!

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