ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tony Kanaan will make his debut with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in Sunday's season-opening IndyCar race, and expectations will be high for the defending Indianapolis 500 winner.
He left KVSH Racing last season to join the Ganassi organization, and was promoted into Dario Franchitti's coveted seat when Franchitti was forced to retire because of injuries suffered in an October crash at Houston. It's a high-profile ride — Franchitti won three championships and two Indy 500s in the red No. 10 — and comes with the pressure of continuing the success.
Kanaan, at 39 years old and entering his 17th season, is confident he can handle everything thrown his way this year.
"I think I've been put into a spot so many times in my life, that I feel like at this point in my career, if it was a little earlier, maybe I'd feel the pressure more," Kanaan said. "I think I know how to manage that. I've just got to do my job. I got hired for one thing — to keep that tradition of the car."
Kanaan has been aided by the presence of Franchitti, who has remained with the organization in an undefined role. But he's attended test sessions with Kanaan, and has been on his timing stand all weekend in St. Petersburg.
Franchitti believes his good friend will be just fine.
"If he wanted to mess himself up, he could sort of think about the pressure of the success of the Target team, the success of the 10 car," he said. "But I think that's not a good way to think about things. TK will write his own story."
Team owner Ganassi expects a smooth transition from Franchitti to Kanaan.
"Tony Kanaan has been a long enough time to know what's expected, what the story is and what he needs to be doing," Ganassi said.
Kanaan, recognizing this will likely be his last ride in IndyCar, wants to make the most of his opportunity.
"There was a time when I had a conversation back in December with Dario, and it was 'at this point, to get this opportunity, I don't think anyone would expect it,' " Kanaan said. "I want to enjoy it. I don't have many more years left in my IndyCar career. I can drive two, three, four years, but not 10. Definitely not 10. So I want to enjoy this."
Five things from a rainy Saturday at St. Pete:
SPEED RECORD: Both Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske are opposed to IndyCar's plan to have drivers attempting to break the track record in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 by 2016.
Ganassi said he told Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, "there's a lot of baggage that comes with that idea that I'm not sure anybody wants to carry. I'm not interested in carrying that baggage."
Arie Luyendyk holds the one- and four-lap qualifying marks, set in 1996. He ran a single lap of 237.498 mph and posted a four-lap average of 236.986. Ed Carpenter won the pole last year at 228.762.
"I've always said that the only reason people know how fast the cars are going is when they announce it," Penske said. "I don't think you can tell the cars are going 230 to 240 unless someone said 'it's a new track record.' We can't race at those speeds and I think it adds cost to the equation if we are going to race at a lower speed and have to run at that speed to qualify."
Ganassi cited the safety concerns with faster speeds. Tony Renna was killed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003 during a tire test in his first outing as a Chip Ganassi Racing driver.
"There's a lot of things that come along with those speeds that I think. Let's just leave it at that," he said. "I don't want to be a naysayer, or a poo-pooer. Maybe they'll be going 300 someday, I don't know. I just think that with everything, with the state of the sport right now, there are a lot of other places to put our energy and our growth funds to work that I think you would get more mileage for than somebody going 240 miles per hour. Just my opinion."
Penske said the focus should be on ensuring the Indy 500 is a good race.
"We need to do the racing at 218, 219, where the guys can pass on the outside. That's what we need to be sure we have," he said.
BUSCH'S DOUBLE: Count Penske among the many in the industry pleased to see Kurt Busch making a bid at running Indianapolis and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
Busch drove for Penske for six seasons. Now with Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR, Busch will run the Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport.
"I think Kurt is a focused guy. I think this is something he's always wanted to do, he's talked to me about it before, he's with a good team and quite honestly, this will be a real good thing for him and (create) a terrific bit of interest in the speedway," Penske said. "Andretti has had success there, I'm anxious to see him and we'll try to help him if we can."
RACE CONTROL: Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, discussed in-depth Saturday a handful of new rules, including the eliminations of double-file restarts on road and street courses. The double-file restarts will still be held on all ovals, except Indianapolis.
IndyCar's decision to use a rotating group of three stewards in race control is not a reflection on race director Beaux Barfield, Walker said. Instead, it's part of an overall upgrade to race control as Walker seeks to improve the consistency.
Barfield was heavily criticized several times last season for calls he made, but Walker said some of it was too harsh.
"Last year we had one person, who would have an on-or-off again love affair with the media. Beaux was the story for the weekend. He got a lot of calls that were blamed on him, and some were and some weren't," Walker said. "We needed to be better, and I wouldn't say it was Beaux that was the problem. It was a collective we. It's a tough job when you are a one-man band making those calls. Especially when you don't have all the eyes that you need to have.
"Beaux, like anyone else, is human and he makes his mistakes just like all of us. But I don't think he was the ogre of race control. I think race control just got left behind in the technology race."
WEATHER WOES: A strong storm moved into St. Petersburg roughly an hour before the scheduled start of Saturday's qualifying session. The grandstands were cleared and spectators were urged to take shelter inside the parking garage where many teams are housed, a nearby stadium and theater, or the airport terminal located behind turn 2.
Several drivers passed the time by gathering for a "selfie" photo similar to the one Ellen DeGeneres did with celebrities during the Oscars. Justin Wilson took the picture that included 11 other drivers.
NEW ENGINE: Honda rolled out its new twin turbo engine after running a single turbo configuration the last two seasons. IndyCar mandated that all engines had to be twin turbo this season, so Honda and Chevrolet are now running the same configuration.
"We had always known the deficiencies and the merits of the single versus the twin, and we waved those, and we had made a tentative decision that we'd pursue a twin turbo route, but we had always kept in the back of our mind that we could go back on the single turbo if there appeared to be an advantage," said Mark Crawford, HPD Large Project Leader for the IndyCar program.
"Then IndyCar made the decision easy for us and they mandated the Twin Turbo, so we went that route."
Honda's new engine is designed, manufactured, maintained and developed by HPD.