Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some thoughts on Kanaan to DeFerran Dragon

By now it is pretty much common knowledge that Tony Kanaan is heading to DeFerran Dragon Racing for 2011. That's a great signing and will be a great partnership as TK is the guy that can take that team to the next level.

The administration part of the organization has always been solid with Jay Penske in charge, and was even strengthened when de Ferran came on last season. Now they have a guy who can get the most out of the car and with all due respect to Rafa Matos, that was something they just haven't had yet.

Still, I think that while the departure from Andretti Autosport was mainly his idea due to his sponsor (7-11) leaving and was a completely amicable thing, it was a big loss to that team, and one that has been often times downplayed in its significance.

TK was the heart and soul of that team. The guy who drove the hardest, put up the best results and acted as a mentor/babysitter/referee to the younger drivers on the team. He was its leader and everyone on that team benefitted from his efforts, especially his ability to provide the rest of the team with its setups. Which is a whole 'nother discussion for another day.

Given the higher profile of teammates Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti, is it possible that TK is a bit underrated? Possibly. He never received the treatment and respect due for a guy that wins one out of every nine races he starts and has 49 podiums in 124 career events.

But if that's the case, he has the chance to change that perception in the future. While its going to be difficult to improve his place in the IndyCar standings, especially since Ganassi is now running four cars, he has the potential to really thrive since he will have less to worry about as part of a one-car team (with Davey Hamilton running a part-time schedule).

So who steps up at Andretti? It doesn't appear like it will be Andretti or Patrick. Marco still needs to gain some maturity (and he's only 23 so that will did for his dad) and Danica's flirtation with NASCAR doesn't represent the all-in commitment it takes to ascend to the lead role with any team. Ryan Hunter-Reay seems more like a Bryan Herta-guy...someone who does tons of work behind the scenes and that is where he is the most comfortable. Actually, the reported possibility of Dan Wheldon coming on as a fourth car would be the best possible situation, as he is capable and comfortable with being the face of a franchise.

Somebody has to lead that team. Even with TK and his best efforts, the team has nearly imploded in the past, with drivers sniping at each other and situations arising that resulted in several come-to-Jesus meetings among the members of the organization. Racing is a sport of huge egos, but when your team is at a competitive disadvantage with Penske and Ganassi dominating the series, you can't afford to have those lapses, especially when those become very, very public.

Maybe these things go on amongst the players in the Big Two as well, but I'd guess not because they wouldn't be tolerated. If they are, it's only to a point and then it is dealt with privately.

Sometimes it seems like when some questions get answered, more arise. AA has taken several hits over the last few weeks with TK leaving and multiple sponsors departing. Finding who becomes the face of that team isn't the biggest problem they have right now, but if they get too far into 2011 without dealing with it, it will become one.


  1. I really think this year Ryan Hunter-Reay is going to have to step up to a leadership position. It's going to make a big difference to that team!

    Wheldon to Andretti's a giant cipher right now. If that happens, I think it changes that team dynamic tremendously.

  2. Couldn't be happier for TK with this and although I was pretty angry at 7-11 and Andretti, after about 2 days I figured that this could be the single best thing to happen to TK in a long time.

    I can't wait for the drama that is going to be Andretti Autosport this year though. I think it's going to be a bit of a mess (still) and hope RHR doesn't get buried by it all as I've loved him for a long time too (even back to CART)