Twelve days separated Tony Kanaan becoming a father for the second time and earning a cherished timepiece for co-driving to the overall victory in the 53rd Rolex 24 At Daytona.
It has been quite a year already for the recently-turned 40 year old, and now Kanaan is preparing for his 13th Verizon IndyCar Series season that starts March 29 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a new race engineer.
Todd Malloy, who spent three-plus years with Bryan Herta Autosport before joining Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in October 2014, will work with Kanaan and the No. 10 NTT DATA crew this season with the debut of aerodynamic bodywork kits at St. Petersburg.
Last season, Kanaan was paired with Chris Simmons (who had been Dario Franchitti’s longtime engineer), and for the coming season he will work with Scott Dixon and the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew. Eric Bretzman, who was with Dixon for his three series championship seasons and 2008 Indianapolis 500 victory, has transferred to the Ganassi Racing stock car program. Brad Goldberg remains as the engineer for Charlie Kimball and the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
“It will be good to get to know him more and test, which is always good for us. We don’t spend enough time in the car anymore,” Kanaan said.
Kanaan closed the 2014 season with three podium finishes in the final five races, including his 17th Indy car victory in the finale at Auto Club Speedway, and placed seventh in the championship (average start of 9.2; average finish of 9.3). It was the first half of the 18-race season, when he recorded one top-five and six top-10 finishes (best of third at Belle Isle 1), that he wants to improve.
“We need to start the year strong; that’s what cost us the championship last year,” said Kanaan, the 2004 series title-holder. “We’ve changed a lot of things over the winter, the approach for this year and hopefully that alone will put us back where we belong.
“There are a lot of decisions that we need to make about some technical things that we’ve wanted to change on the car that will work independently of what aero configuration you have on the car.”
Kanaan spent multiple hours in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Prototype in the endurance race Jan. 24-25 at Daytona International Speedway. He joined Dixon, Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dan Wheldon, Mark Donohue, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Rice, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal as Indy car drivers to win the Rolex 24 and Indianapolis 500.
“Two years ago when I signed with Chip (Ganassi), the first question I asked him was, ‘Do I get to do the 24 Hours?’ As a driver, you always want to be in on the big races,” he said. “To win overall, I had to be in a good team.”
After the transition year in 2014, Kanaan believes he’s with a “good team; no, a great team” to challenge for a second series title and Indianapolis 500 victory.
“The goal is to keep winning; that’s what we’re here for,” he said. “And we’re in a great organization that we’ve been given cars every weekend that are able to win so the goal is just to win more races, more championships, and more Indy 500s.”