IZOD IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology – Lotus co-owner Jimmy Vasser discuss the Brazilian's move to the team for 2011.
Q: Tony, you've had a pretty interesting off-season...
TONY KANAAN: Somebody said, "Well, it was a scary moment." I said, "It was beyond scary, it was desperation at the time it came."
I have to say, I always believed it was going to happen. Obviously, I didn't know where I was going to land, especially this late in the year. To have a team like KV to pick me up like that, I don't think I can express how happy and thrilled I am with obviously GEICO coming on board and a lot of my sponsors back in Brazil. After the thing with Gil [de Ferran] dropped, I started getting phone calls from sponsors trying to help. That doesn't happen very often.
I'm very, very, very happy to be with Jimmy. He's a good, old time friend, like you said. We go back to the Champ Car days with [Alex] Zanardi, him and myself (LEFT, the three of them in 2001). It's a thrill. I think I'm still overwhelmed. We're at the racetrack today doing some shakedown in the car. I'm getting to know the team and I spent a little bit of time with Jimmy.
Very happy, glad that this is happening. I'm ready to do what I know, actually – the fun part, which is the driving.
Jimmy, as we head into St. Petersburg this weekend, talk about what Tony, considering how many wins he's had, his strength in setting up a car, just his championship pedigree, what that brings to KV Racing Technology and what it does?
JIMMY VASSER: He's a champion, multi-time race winner. He's a professional, a pro. He's been out of the car all winter long. He jumps in the car and his lap times are right there and very consistent, so we're not surprised at all with that.
He's got a great reputation around the paddock and the sport as being the sport's best teammate. He's been a great leader at Andretti Green. He's been a great teammate for everybody there.
We're looking forward for him to bring that sort of leadership into our team. We got two great teammates for him in E.J. Viso and Takuma Sato. But they're still relatively young and new to the sport of IndyCar racing. Tony is a veteran and is really going to be able to help them polish their game. They're both very fast drivers, but they're still learning the nuances of what it takes to win in IndyCar. That's what Tony brings to us.
Tony is a winner. For me it's almost like, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." We're thrilled to death to get Tony Kanaan on the Lotus KV squad. It legitimizes us a little bit more. We've been working hard over the years to position ourselves with the likes of Ganassi and Penske. We started out, even Andretti Green was one of them. Now it's Andretti Autosport. Next stop for us is winning races, building. Where we land on that path this year of cutting into Chip and Roger's dominance basically of the sport remains to be seen. But certainly having Tony Kanaan on the team is a step forward for us.
Tony, how competitive do you think you can be with no testing, right out of the box this weekend? We're seeing that two teams win almost all the races in this series. How competitive do you think that team can be this year?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I mean, obviously no testing. But after today, I'm only going to be one day behind everybody else, because the testing in the series has been very limited.
I think the biggest challenge for us as a team is to get everybody working together. If I didn't believe we couldn't win, I wouldn't have joined Jimmy and KV, and I don't think Jimmy would have hired me. Obviously, we have high expectations, but we're being realistic. I think we can be competitive. We're going to have a lot of work to do. I'm going to have to adapt very quickly with the team and mechanics and everybody. But KV has proven they had fast cars in the past. I think with my experience combined, we can have great things together, and the goal is to try to break the dominance of the Penske and Ganassi guys.
I think the field this year, it's tighter than ever, adding a couple different combinations here and there. It's going to be a fun year. I'm looking forward to it.
People need to make sure that KV and myself, we're not the last options for each other. As you can tell, people are talking in the press, bashing us, or propping us for everything. There's a reason we signed this deal. As a team, they had other options and as a driver I had other options, but I chose to be here. I believe this is going to be really good.
It seems as if from the outside that the deal with GEICO came together rather quickly, which would seem impressive given today's sponsor environment. Can you explain how that happened? Were they waiting in the wings all along in case somebody like T.K. became available?
JIMMY VASSER: Not really. T.K. became available so late in the game, GEICO, from what I understood, was not going to do anything in IndyCar racing. We had a relationship with them with Paul Tracy in the past two years. They said they were not going to be interested.
When Tony became available, the way the sponsorship package worked out, we were able to basically shotgun the opportunity out to many companies. The thing that was a game-changer for GEICO really was not only the value of the sponsorship we were able to offer but Tony Kanaan. Tony Kanaan swings a heavy stick in the marketplace. I think people were very surprised that he was available.
With the sponsorship that Tony was able to drum up working his butt off in Brazil added to what we had as a team, as well, really enabled GEICO to get a value package, so to say.
Tony, there's still a couple of big names around the sidelines with Paul Tracy and Dan Wheldon for St. Pete. In the case of Wheldon, a former teammate, someone you were close to. Is it mixed emotions, a sense of relief that you're back, but unfortunately some other veterans are not going to be there for the opener?
TONY KANAAN: For sure. The three of us tried to support each other being out of a job. I was fortunate enough that I got a ride right before the first race. Now that I'm relieved, obviously I feel bad for Dan and Paul. I think they deserve to have a ride.
Now that I've been in their shoes, I know how hard it is. I feel for them and I'm hoping they can announce something soon.