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Ganassi signs Kanaan - and switches to Chevy

4 October 2013

Ever since it leaked out that Tony Kanaan was unlikely to re-sign at KV Racing Technology for another season in the IndyCar Series, speculation and rumour had swirled suggesting that he was in negotiations to join the Ganassi squad in 2014.

On Friday, the rumours became fact as Chip Ganassi confirmed that he had signed the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion to drive a fourth car for his team, putting him alongside Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball next season. But the expected announcement was quickly outshone by a stunning postscript regarding Ganassi changing engine supplier at the end of the year, which will see Kanaan continuing his relationship with Chevrolet.

“I couldn't be happier to join this organisation," said Kanaan about his new deal. "They are the gold standard that all IndyCar teams measure themselves against.

"Chip has created a fantastic organisation that judges success by just one thing: winning both races and championships," he explained. "I can't wait for next year to get here. This is a very big day for me."

“It is not all the time that you can find yourself as an owner with drivers that represent seven championships, five Indianapolis 500 victories and over 75 wins," said Chip Ganassi. "I think TK will add a lot to this organisation, not only from his talent behind the wheel but also from his leadership skills off the track."

Ganassi added that this had been no overnight deal but had been something that the two parties had been hoping to pull off for the last five years, and now the stars had finally aligned to allow Kanaan to drive for the "team he was destined to join," as the 38-year-old Brazilian put it thanks to primary sponsorship from NTT DATA.

Ganassi originally offered Kanaan a race seat in August 2008, but Kanaan opted instead to sign a contract extension with his then-current team Andretti-Green Racing. Kanaan was subsequently forced out of the team in 2010 after the loss of a key sponsor left AGR unable to retain him, and Kanaan was only given a last-minute reprieve by an offer from former team mate turned team owner Jimmy Vasser to join KVR for 2011.

However a relative lack of success with KVR which saw him win just won race in three seasons - albeit the race of his dreams, this year's Indy 500 in May - left Kanaan restless for new horizons and keen to reconnect with Ganassi.

But just when the assembled journalists thought that the press conference was over there was an unexpected arrival in the form of Chevrolet's vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, Jim Campbell. Given that Ganassi has been Honda's flagship team in IndyCar since the return of multiple engine manufacturers to the championship at the start of 2012, this was a surprise to say the least.

And it was exactly what it looked like: Ganassi was announcing that it was dumping Honda at the end of the season and would be switching to Chevy for 2014, putting them on an equal footing with their main rivals Penske in next year's championship.

"This decision makes a lot of sense for us for a number of reasons,” explained Ganassi. "Chevrolet has done a great job in their return to the IndyCar Series."

Ganassi added that his existing relationship with Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where they have supplies engines for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team since 2009, was also a vital factor in the decision to switch.

"There are a lot of synergies that we will be able to realize in working with the same manufacturer across the two series," he said. "We are thrilled."

We have tremendous amount of respect for Chip, [Ganassi Racing manager] Mike Hull and the entire team for the way they've organized themselves, the way they conduct themselves and the way they deliver results," said Campbell. "Over time, nine championships in IndyCar, also four Indy 500s to date and this is a proud moment."

The decision to split from Honda was likely seeded earlier in the year after a poor start to the 2013 season for Ganassi which was at least partly due to underpowered and glitch-prone engines. Although Honda have significantly boosted their units' performance in the later half of the season - to the point where Scott Dixon is now a leading contender for the title that will be decided this month - it seems that it was too late to repair the breach between team and supplier.

Honda warned earlier this week that the series needed a third engine manufacturer to sign up, after Lotus exited IndyCar in some ignominy at the end of the 2012 season and left it as a Honda/Chevrolet duopoly.

"A third manufacturer is absolutely critical," said Honda Performance Development technical director Roger Griffiths on Wednesday. "The long-term sustainability of IndyCar needs more than just Honda and GM [General Motors, parent company of Chevrolet.]

"If you want to continue to have competition, it's very hard to keep that going if there is only two of you doing it," he added. "We don't need five people doing it, just a third competitive manufacturer would be great. A fourth would be wonderful. What it needs is quality."

The announcement was made in Houston ahead of the start of this week's double header races, with track activity delayed for several hours because of a problem dealing with a potentially dangerous bump on the track at turn 1.


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