LONG BEACH, California — When Tony Kanaan signed with AJ Foyt Racing in the offseason, he immediately began undertaking a rebuilding process. He’s looking at taking another step at today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Foyt Racing’s last Verizon IndyCar Series victory came five years ago at Long Beach with Takuma Sato. Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, signed to drive for Foyt this season alongside Indy Lights graduate Matheus Leist, but there were more personnel changes involved.
“In September after Sonoma, we already started to work on it,” Kanaan said. “A bunch of these guys here, I’ve worked with in the past. Team manager George Klotz (who joined the team in 2017) was with me at Andretti, I brought my engineer Eric Cowdin from Ganassi. We won the 500 together so we were working Monday after the (2017 season finale) already to build this thing the way it is.”
Kanaan, 43 and in his 21st season driving Indy cars, knows it’s not an overnight process, though there have been glimmers of light already. Leist qualified third in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, but was plagued by mechanical issues in the race and finished last. Kanaan races to a solid eighth-place finish at ISM Raceway on April 7 and sits ninth in the standings after two of 17 races.
Kanaan, in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, will start 11th and Leist, in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, will go off 14th in today’s 85-lap race on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
“It’s a slow building process,” said Kanaan. “You saw how much they struggled last year. It’s not one thing that I’m going to say, ‘This is what we’ve got to do.’ We’re building from personnel to organizing our testing but off the track, like the wind tunnel, the seven-post shaker rig and just getting all of these people to synchronize and work together to be able to bring them to victory circle. That’s the biggest goal.”
Kanaan isn’t pushing just for Foyt’s return to victory lane. The Brazilian’s last win was 52 races ago at the 2014 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. He hasn’t seen the checkers first on a street course victory in more than a decade – at Detroit in 2007.
“This series is extremely competitive and we can’t predict who’s going to win,” said Kanaan. “We’ve just got to keep digging and trying to do the best we can to win a race.”
Kanaan finished a four-year stint at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017, highlighted by one victory and 12 podiums. The shift from a four-car team that won a championship in 2015 with Scott Dixon to a two-car effort where Kanaan is the clear leader presented different responsibilities.
“It’s just a different environment,” said the 1997 Indy Lights champion. “It’s a much smaller team, smaller organization. These guys need a lot more of my help than actually Ganassi did.
“It’s just a different work dynamic. They ask a lot more here for my input than anything than (at Ganassi) as far as how do we do this and that with the team. I have a lot more voice here just because it’s the nature of it being a smaller team.”
Kanaan believes his new team is benefiting from the universal aero kit used by all competitors in 2018.
“It might give us more chances, for sure,” he said. “It’s fun, you’ve got to drive it. It’s a lot harder, a lot less downforce and slides a lot more – which I love it. It’s back to the old days, which I like a lot.”
How quickly that transfers into Kanaan and AJ Foyt Racing returning to victory lane remains to be seen.