Tony Kanaan

SEBRING, Florida – After his first stint in a car equipped with the new universal aero kit, Tony Kanaan posted a photo of it on Instagram. Seven hours later, it had more than 2,700 likes and numerous positive comments about its appearance.

“To me, the look matters,” Kanaan said during a break in manufacturer testing today at Sebring International Raceway. “It matters to me and it matters to fans. Let’s put it this way: If you walk into a restaurant or an airport looking like a bum, it doesn’t matter who you are. People are going to judge you based on your appearance. That’s just the way humans are. But when you walk into that restaurant wearing a nice suit, people are going to treat you better.

“It’s the same with a car. People are going to love the way this car looks, and it’s going to attract them more.”

In his first on-track work since signing with AJ Foyt Racing in October, Kanaan completed several long runs in the team’s No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. After the morning session, he said it was too early to judge the feel of the new kit.

Tony Kanaan and Wayne Bennett of Ilmor/Chevrolet“I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I wouldn’t say it’s great – it’s a work in progress,” Kanaan said. “It’s hard for me to tell right now because it’s just three hours. Plus, it’s a new team. We have new guys. We’re trying to do everything at once, which is kind of hard. We’re taking our time. I’m letting the guys get into the flow. Right now, I couldn’t make an assessment, but I wasn’t unhappy with the car and the way we unloaded it this morning, for sure. It was faster than I expected.”

Kanaan’s new boss agreed with praise for the kit’s sleek, simple design that harkens to earlier days of open-wheel racing.

“We still put on a show, and part of that is the look of the product,” team president Larry Foyt said. “More importantly, it’s about how it races. With the competitiveness of INDYCAR, I don’t feel like the racing is going to be an issue.”

Engineer Eric Cowdin, who has been with Kanaan for much of his 20-year career and was hired this fall as the team’s technical director, oversaw the debut. Also watching was Matheus Leist, the 19-year-old Brazilian hired to drive the team’s No. 4 car for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“I grew up watching Tony and Helio (Castroneves),” Leist said. “To be at this point now and working with him is a dream come true.”

The pairing of Kanaan, who won the 2013 Indianapolis 500, and team owner A.J. Foyt, who won four 500s during his legendary career, is a matchup of like-minded racers.

“We’re here to grow this team,” Kanaan said. “As long as everybody is on the same page, we’ll be OK. I had a chat with A.J. before we signed. I said, ‘A.J., I’m here because I want to be here. I’m here because the name you have in racing deserves to be winning. If I can help, I’m here 100 percent.’”

Like others who have tested the new kit that all cars will use in 2018, the reduction in downforce is its most notable characteristic. Kanaan agreed.

“I’ve been driving for 21 years, so I’m sure at some point in my career I’ve driven something like this before,” he said. “It’s definitely different. I enjoy it, but it’s different.”

Today’s test was the second day for Chevrolet on Sebring’s short course and included Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevy. Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing each had a car on track Tuesday. Honda will test with two cars on Thursday, the final manufacturer day before the INDYCAR-mandated testing blackout over the holidays. Team testing is permitted beginning Jan. 7.

All full-season entries will participate in an open test Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix Raceway. The 2018 season opener is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.