Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
KV Racing Technology
Tony Kanaan is the driver who very nearly didn't make it onto the starting grid at all in 2011. As soon as the 2010 season finished, it was announced that his primary sponsor 7-Eleven, Inc. was withdrawing from the sport, and that had left Andretti Autosport with insufficient funds to keep him on with them this year.
Kanaan's hopes for a race seat appeared to have been met when his old friend Gil de Ferran handed him a spot at the de Ferran Dragon Racing squad, but then just weeks before the start of the 2011 season the deal unravelled - again, over a lack of sponsor money. Kanaan was out of a job once more, and de Ferran's squad was soon shuttered altogether. Finally another old friend and former racer, Jimmy Vasser, came up with a deal to add Kanaan as a third car to the KV Racing Technology squad. KVRT already had the promising (and very fast) Takuma Sata and EJ Viso racing for them, but maybe adding Kanaan's experience could do something about the pair's annoying tendency to crash into things and not make it to the end of races. If that was the hope, then Kanaan's addition to the team was a definite success and the whole team appeared boosted by having Kanaan's expertise in the cockpit to draw upon. And it wasn't lost on the paddock how - just as KVRT's star was on the rise - the team that had let Kanaan go, Andretti Autosport, was frequently having a nightmare of a season. Could there be clearer proof of what value one man can bring to a team?
Moreover the whole experience revitalised Kanaan himself, who put in some fabulous drives and was rarely far away from the front. He claimed third place in his first outing for KVRT despite having only jumped in the cockpit for them a couple of days before. And although he didn't manage to take an actual win during 2012, he had a brilliant duel at Iowa with his former team mate Marco Andretti before finally having to settle for second place. His season included five additional top five finishes, and a pole position albeit one won through a blind draw for the second of the Texas doubleheader event; he would win pole the old fashioned way at Las Vegas, but that race was tragically destined never to be completed.
Given the death of his close friend Dan Wheldon that weekend, Kanaan would have been forgiven for wanting to hang up his helmet for good after this. But not a bit of it: "If it ever crossed my mind that it was too dangerous, I should go and do something else," he said after the fatal accident, instead insisting that he will carry on in 2012 with even more passion and reason than ever before - in Wheldon's memory: "I will try to honour him as best I can on the racetrack," he insisted. And he'll doubtless be true to his word.
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
4. Scott Dixon
5. Oriol Servia
6. Ryan Briscoe
7. James Hinchcliffe
8. Graham Rahal
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand