Veteran racer Kanaan searches for funding, new team in offseason
Times are tough all over. The qualified cannot find work in their careers of study.
So there was 35-year-old Tony Kanaan. The 14-year veteran, 15-time winner in North American open wheel racing and the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion, stared with dread at the defiant white screen of a computer in his Miami office a few weeks ago. His resume skills had eroded.
Media guides or public relations personnel usually handled such mediation. But now, as he prepared to find a job after being released from his contract with Andretti Autosport because of sponsor woes, the Brazilian found himself in the odd position of starting over, like so many in low-velocity occupations. He hoped to court a series of Brazilian sponsors, knowing he would have to bring his own sponsor funds to whatever team he approached or approached him for a 2011 ride ... so there he sat. And it was odd.
"It was funny, something I haven't done in probably 13 years," Kanaan recalled. "People ask, 'Do you know Tony Kanaan?' 'Yeah, yeah, he won ...' Now I have to try to explain and put it down on paper for people who have no idea what's going on. It's the reality. I'm a big guy. I have no pride about whether they don't know who I am. It's tough."
Kanaan, who won at Iowa and finished sixth in series points last year, has spoken this offseason with DeFerran Dragon Racing, Newman-Haas and FAZZT, and tested a car as "a favor" for de Ferran at Sebring recently. There is every indication De Ferran would like to pair the veteran Kanaan with driver Rafa Matos if funding can be secured, and the former Indianapolis 500-winning driver has sketched methodical, yet lofty plans since becoming a team owner.
"Tony is a great driver and I believe he has many, many years of being a top driver ahead of him. He would be an asset to any team. Would he be an asset to our team? Absolutely," de Ferran told Speedtv.com.
Kanaan isn't alone as a lettered driver looking for work. Former AA teammate Dan Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion, was freed at the end of the season by Panther Racing.
"Teams are looking for people with money," Kanaan said. "And they are looking for money somewhere else. Once all these pieces start sorting out, once teams start running out of drivers that have money, they're going to think to find money, they are going to get someone who is talented, or [someone] they can sell. It's easier to sell Tony Kanaan than whatever Driver X. So they might come and say, 'We'll do this. We'll start. We don't have a full-year deal, but we'll deal with it.' That's probably what I'm facing right now. I will do my best not to spend Christmas and New Year's worrying if I have a job or not, but that's the situation I'm in right now."
Kanaan hopes to facilitate that possible deal and create some options by securing one or more sponsors from Brazil, where he is more widely known and marketable, then present himself to the best team possible. He's not spoken with the two most successful owners in the sport -- Chip Ganassi, who has won four straight titles, and top rival, legendary owner Roger Penske. There's no need to waste their time, he said.
"I'm not sitting here saying I'm going to choose my options. I have no options," Kanaan said. "The option is find the money and come talk to us and that's it.
"If I had someone who was going to give me $8 million, I would go to Chip or Roger and ask if they could run a car for me. But I'm not in that position. There is not even a reason to call Chip and ask if he wants me. Why? He has two very good drivers."
Kanaan still considers himself a good driver, a marketable one, too, but he's also a realist. After eight seasons with Andretti in which he was a founding driver and heavily leveraged leader, Kanaan has tempered his expectations.
"To be realistic, I think we'll find something," he said. "I don't think it's something where we can say we're going to go out here and win a championship like I had a fair shot at most of the years I raced in the past, be five, six, seventh, at least. We're going to have to rebuild. In my mind, it's not just about who's going to give me the money to go find a job, it has to be a thing where we can sit down and plan on making this thing grow and building up together. There are only a handful of teams that can do that."
Kanaan is open to any option, he said. He has to be. Though his informal dialogue with NASCAR driver Kyle Busch about possibly running up to eight Truck series races became a source of intense speculation, Kanaan is more interested in full-time work, specifically in his area of expertise.
"It's my first choice," he said. "This is where my heart is. I want to be able to find a job."
And so the search continues.