Confirmation of Tony Kanaan’s move to AJ Foyt Racing for the 2018 IndyCar season has been met with a mixed reception.
After two disappointing seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing and an error-strewn 2017, could it see a return to form or be a case of one season too many for the likeable Brazilian?
A glorious end to a glorious career?
Kanaan’s time at Chip Ganassi Racing started with great promise in 2014. Back to a genuine front-running team for the first time since his stint with Andretti Green, the scene was set for a glorious close to his open wheel career. Fast forward to 2017 and his record is pretty disappointing.
Four seasons at Ganassi have delivered a solitary win. By contrast, teammate Scott Dixon won his third championship in 2015, recorded two top 3 championship finishes and collected 8 wins.
Kanaan knew coming to Ganassi was his best chance of finishing his career with wins. But he also knew it meant delivering at every race.
Kanaan’s 2017 season nightmare
Results have been particularly hard to come by during 2017. Dixon alone has taken the challenge to the Penske juggernaut with mostly erratic and inconsistent support from Kanaan.
But it is not just the results that put a question mark over Kanaan’s decision to sign up for another season. The manner in which his 2017 season went off the rails should have raised more than just eyebrows.
Honda’s aero/engine package was the surprise of the opening races this season. Whilst Dixon was bagging podiums, Kanaan was MIA. An upturn in performance came at Indy where he was quick – as he always is – but then came Texas.
Downhill after Texas
TK took the blame and rightly so for the Texas mega shunt that mangled 8 cars and notched up a an eye-watering $1.5m repair bill.
Shortly afterwards he drove like a rookie at Road America, tangling with Alexander Rossi and then crashing heavily. Thereafter his season went downhill culminating in the second-worst championship finish of his IndyCar career.
Kanaan’s confidence appeared to take a hit – literally and metaphorically – after Texas and Road America. Toronto saw another rookie mistake, crashing on cold tires on a pit out lap.
The final ignominy for the 2004 IndyCar champion was his warm-up lap accident at Gateway.
What can a move to AJ Foyt Racing achieve for Kanaan?
No racing driver wants to finish what has been a successful career with a season like Kanaan endured in 2017. Nevertheless, the noticeable decline in his driving in the past two seasons begs the question: what can a move to Foyt Racing actually achieve?
Kanaan will undoubtedly continue to be rapid during the month of May and another Indy 500 win is not beyond the realms of possibility. Swapping a multiple championship winning team like Ganassi for Foyt however diminishes those chances but writing off Kanaan at the 500 is shortsighted.
When it comes to the rest of the season however it is hard to see what the new combination can achieve. Kanaan himself is confident the new 2018 universal aerokit will level the playing field enough to boost Foyt.
But neither have looked anything remotely like race winners in the past 2 seasons. Plus the comprehensive failure by Foyt Racing to get a handle on the Chevrolet aero kit in 2017 is significant. What is suddenly going to change for 2018?
Kanaan & Foyt: two great names, two damaged legacies
The vast majority of IndyCar fans want to see Foyt Racing do well. There is something intensely disrespectful to the achievement of AJ Foyt the driver in the continued failure of the team that carries his name.
However Kanaan’s signing feels a lot like yet more rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic.
The 2013 Indy 500 champion joins them as they start another season of rebuilding. Which does not bold well for either party. Especially when we consider that both Kanaan and Larry Foyt have – publicly at least – set out the objective of getting them to victory lane next season.
“We both needed some boosts to put this team in victory lane, and we’re doing everything we can. With the new car, everybody starting from scratch, that’s our chance.” Tony Kanaan
Was 2017 not supposed to be Foyt’s return to victory lane?
2017 was supposed to be the season that took Foyt Racing in to victory lane. New drivers, the prized Chevrolet aero/engine package and new engineering talent all pointed towards a pivotal season of progress.
Instead there were chronic engineering issues, erratic set ups and disappointing results. A late season rally suggested things were starting to come together but it was too little too late.
Despite the public pronouncements of Kanaan and Foyt about wins it is hard to envisage the ABC Supply-backed team tasting much champagne in 2018.
Setting more realistic goals for 2018
If rebuilding is the true objective then Kanaan – a 20 year open wheel veteran – is the perfect candidate to knock the team in to shape. Depending on who Foyt run in their second car the 17-time race winner could be the ideal team leader/driver coach/mentor.
In my mind Kanaan should have called it quits after the 2015 season. At that point he had done what was asked of him by Chip Ganassi and close friend Dario Franchitti.
2015 was the year
Tony had supported Dixon to the championship and kept Franchitti’s 10 car at the sharp end of the field after the Scotsman’s forced retirement. He had the Indy 500 win and a championship – more than most of his contemporaries ever achieved – plus a new wife and growing family.
But logic is often overruled by emotion when it comes to motor sport. Kanaan is committed to at least another season of IndyCar racing with AJ Foyt Racing.
In my heart I hope that it does not turn out to be a case of one season too many.