Kanaan joins de Ferran’s IndyCar stable

All Tony Kanaan really wanted was a full-time ride in the

IndyCar Series. Team owner Gil de Ferran delivered his gift a few

days early.

On Monday, the two Brazilian friends announced they were teaming

up for the 2011 season, a move that gives instant credibility to de

Ferran Dragon Racing’s fledgling team.

”I want to call Gil Santa because he has all that white hair

and that big belly,” Kanaan joked during a conference call with

reporters. ”I tried to explain to my kids that I was going to ask

Santa for a gift as well.”

Kanaan, known for his playful image and genteel personality, is

one of the series’ most competitive drivers.

In eight seasons driving for Michael Andretti’s team, Kanaan won

14 races, the 2004 series title and never finished worse than sixth

in points. He won last season’s race at Iowa and finished sixth


And during the last three years, Kanaan, who turns 36 next week,

had been the steadying influence for his younger teammates,

including Danica Patrick. He usually spent the month of May driving

all four cars in the Andretti stable, though he never did win the

Indianapolis 500. It’s the one glaring omission from Kanaan’s

resume, one he hopes de Ferran can help him eliminate.

De Ferran, who won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 driving for Roger

Penske, returned to the series last season as a first-time team

owner. Another Brazilian, Raphael Matos, was de Ferran’s full-time

driver last season with American Davey Hamilton driving part-time

for the team.

Getting Kanaan, however, is a major move for de Ferran.

”We are a very young and developing operation with big

ambitions, and I think Tony brings a wealth of experience,” he

said. ”He’s a champion, he’s a race winner, he’s raced all sorts

of cars in many situations. Hopefully it brings us a little closer

to being a major force in the Izod IndyCar Series.”

The two also have a friendship that transcends the sport.

Kanaan acknowledged Monday that he and de Ferran have vacationed

together with their families and they are so close that Kanaan

couldn’t even explain when the negotiations for this deal started.

Terms of the contract were not immediately available.

”I looked at him one day and he looked at me, and he said

‘Should we be talking?”’ Kanaan recounted. ”I said, ‘Yes.”’

Things didn’t become official, though, until Monday’s


Kanaan’s future with Andretti Autosports was put in doubt when

7-Eleven announced last season that it would end the longtime

sponsorship of Kanaan’s green-and-white No. 11 car. In October,

Kanaan and Andretti agreed to a settlement that essentially made

Kanaan a free agent.

Andretti’s team has undergone major changes during the offseason

– losing Kanaan and three major sponsorship deals, including

7-Eleven. For the first time in several years, it also appears the

team will have fewer than four drivers, and it won’t be the same

seeing Kanaan working with a different team in Gasoline Alley.

But that’s an image Kanaan and de Ferran will cherish.

”I’m going to have all the attention for myself. It feels

good,” Kanaan said. ”It has been eight, almost nine years with a

big team, so it took me a little time to get used to, but in a way

I think it’s great. I’m enjoying every moment of it. Everything’s

downsized for me. I’m just trying to get used to it.”

De Ferran did not say whether Hamilton would be back part-time

in 2011 or whether he would add a second full-time driver though he

has said previously that he would prefer a two-car team.

”I think the rest of our plans will be known in due course,”

de Ferran said. ”Hopefully, we’ll make more announcements in the

near future. It was great working Davey last year, and if we could

do that again next year, we’d do it.”