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.”
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.