You heard it here first, or maybe second and possibly third depending on who you talk to, but it's gonna happen. In his first season at de Ferran Dragon Racing 9-year IZOD IndyCar Series veteran, Tony Kanaan, will take his 15th trip to victory lane.
Yes, Kanaan has just 2 wins over the last three seasons and his new team had an average finishing position of a not so impressive 15.7 in 2010. However, there are explanations for both of those circumstances, and the new combination remedies both of them.
In his first 5 seasons of full-time IZOD IndyCar Series competition with Andretti Autosport, Kanaan had 12 wins, 26 podiums, 8 poles, a Championship, and an average finish of 3rd in the season ending points standings. In the next three the Brazilian had two victories, 13 podiums, 2 poles, and an average finish of 5th in the Championship. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding has been a little lumpy since 2008.
Kanaan's teammates at Andretti last season, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick were no slouches. Each of the three has at least one win, and the trio earned both Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. Their talent is not questioned, but it's no secret that TK was responsible for much of the set-up work. Take Indianapolis for example, the perfect microcosm of Kanaan's recent career.
Opening Day at Indy found Kanaan piloting all five of the Andretti Autosport entries. Running a total of 36 laps, he had this to say following practice:
"We just wanted to make sure that all of our cars had the same feel and make sure that we had the same starting point for everybody. So, they voted me the guy to do that. They tell me it's because I'm a veteran, but usually that means you're old and I definitely don't see myself that way, so I'm not sure. But, I'm glad to do it and I think we've got a good idea of where we are as a team and where we need to go for the 7-Eleven car."
As TK said, he's the "old guy"on the team. The experienced one. From 2003 to 2007, his most successful stretch, Kanaan's teammates had a combined average 20-years of major open-wheel experience each season. From 2008 to 2010, his Andretti Autosport peers had a combined 8-years of experience on average each season. It's natural, if Ryan, Marco, or Danica needed a bit of guidance, of course they take a beeline for the former series champ. As a one car full-time operation in 2011, Kanaan can concentrate 100% of his efforts on himself. With the exception of a few oval track events where 10-year veteran Davey Hamilton will drive a second entry, every second of both on track and off track preparation goes to his #2 Dallara.
The separation of Kanaan and Andretti Autosport ends a very successful 8-year partnership, but it also brings a conclusion to both on track and off track 'misunderstandings' with and between his teammates. The issues have been well documented, everything from on track scuffles to closed door meetings and everything in between. The level of distraction can not be underestimated, and it's a complication that shouldn't be lingering in 2011.
Although de Ferran Dragon Racing has had more lows than highs since their inception in 2007, the young team has shown flashes of brilliance. Signing-on a rejuvenated Ryan Briscoe for their one-off race at Indianapolis in '07, the then named Luczo Dragon Racing started from the inside of row 3, moving up two positions to a solid 5th place finish in their debut.
The following year the team expanded to a 6-race schedule with veteran pilot Tomas Scheckter. Although three top seven starts, Scheckter never finished higher than 21st. Either dropping out due to contact or mechanical failures in five events, the #12 entry took just one checkered flag, 31 laps down.
In 2009 Rookie driver Raphael Matos took the reigns of the Luczo Dragon Racing entry. With mixed results, Matos wracked up 8 top 10 finishes and a 13th place in the season ending IZOD IndyCar Series points standings. For his Sophomore season, the young Brazilian returned to a newly merged de Ferran Dragon Racing. With greater expectations the team could only manage half the tops 10's as they had in 2008, although two of the finishes were 4th's, the teams all-time best finishing position.
2011 seems to be a match made in heaven for both the maturing team and veteran driver. de Ferran Dragon is getting a proven entity. A driver who has sat on poles, won races and a Championship. Kanaan is getting an up and coming team, with great management and no distractions. They have the management, crew, and equipment in place to finish on top of the podium, it's just a matter of finding the right driver. TK is that driver.