Tony Kanaan finally gets his chance to play with his best Christmas present during this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 test session at Daytona International Speedway.
The Verizon IndyCar Series veteran will get his first taste of driving the Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing in the GT Le Mans class at the open test session in preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance sports car race Jan. 28-29.
Driving the supercar is something the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been itching to do since the program operated by the Ganassi squad was announced in 2015. The program’s goal was a successful return to 24 Hours of Le Mans and it was accomplished when fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sebastien Bourdais teamed with Joey Hand and Dirk Muller to win the GTLM class last June – 50 years after a Ford GT snatched the overall win at the iconic event. Ford GTs won a total of five times in 2016 between the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“I’ve been following this thing since Day 1 because I’m a big fan of the car and the street car,” Kanaan said before the test. “Seeing the team win Le Mans last year after I won the 24 Hours of Daytona with them (in 2015 in a Daytona Prototype) already made me want to be there. I was waiting for the right opportunity and it finally came.
“It came a couple days before Christmas so I actually said it was the best Christmas gift I had this year. I’m a part of a big tradition, I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to get there.”
Even though Kanaan, who turned 42 on New Year’s Eve, was born after the Ford GT’s mass success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1966-69, he is charmed by the car’s racing history and success.
“The tradition about the car, the way the cars looks, it’s just awesome. It’s fast car, a good-looking car, it has a lot of tradition and history in racing. It’s one thing I’m going to add to my resume.”
Kanaan will team with WEC regulars Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the No. 69 Ford GT for the twice-around-the-clock event. Although he has never raced with them before, Kanaan feels encouraged by their success last season.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “Andy did the 24 hours with us in the Prototype in the second car. Big props to Andy, who knew me and suggested that I could be driving as well. Chip said it, but it always helps when you have a teammate that wants you there. They’re fast and their results (in 2016) were stellar, so I’m excited about it, for sure.”
Chip Ganassi Racing has scored six overall wins in the Rolex 24 with Kanaan a part of the team’s 2015 victory along with Verizon IndyCar Series teammate Scott Dixon and Ganassi NASCAR pilots Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson.
Given their mutual success at Daytona, Kanaan would be over the moon if he was to pull off the team’s seventh win in the race.
“It’s a payback to Chip for all the trust that he put on me the past four years. They recognized that I was good at Daytona. It would definitely mean the world to me. One more (Rolex) watch for my collection.”
Kanaan has five starts in the Rolex 24, three coming in Ganassi Daytona Prototypes. This year’s run will mark his return to the GT class after a four-year absence. With three days of testing ahead of him at the Roar, Kanaan hopes to use his teammates’ experience to his advantage.
“It’s something very new to me,” he said. “All my teammates have experience on those cars, so I’m going to extract as much as I can from them and just learn. Those races, you never have enough time for anything so I’m not expecting to be comfortable by the time I get to the race weekend. But it’s a long race.
“You have 24 hours to learn about the car and I trust my teammates and they were very good over the past year with the car, so I’m just really looking forward to getting used to the car.”
A sizable chunk of the Verizon IndyCar Series grid is on hand for the Roar test that runs today through Sunday on the 3.56-mile road course. The Prototype class features James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot driving for Mazda and RC Enerson for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. Joining Kanaan at CGR in the GTLM Ford GTs are Bourdais and Dixon. The GT Daytona class features Graham Rahal and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in Michael Shank Racing’s Acura NSX GT3s.
Other drivers with INDYCAR ties competing include Townsend Bell, Ryan Briscoe, Christian Fittipaldi, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam, Katherine Legge, Scott Pruett, Buddy Rice, Sebastian Saavedra, Scott Sharp and Tristan Vautier. IMSA also announced today that four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will be the grand marshal for the 55th running of the Rolex 24.