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Even without a dose of hilarity like Conor Daly’s mullet unveiling from a year ago, Day 1 of IndyCar’s annual Content Days delivered several doses of intrigue.
One series veteran is sticking around at the ripe age of 47 – with no end in sight. IndyCar’s first woman driver running close to a full season in nine years announced her news as well. The paddock convened on the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis to run through the carwash of deadline media interviews, chats with IndyCar radio and NBC, and shoot photos and GIFs for use once the 2022 campaign kicks off Feb. 27 on the streets of St. Pete.
Other hot topics Monday? Super license points, the Formula 1 finale and Mike Tyson. Here’s what we learned on Monday.
(And don’t worry – with his news last week of landing his first one-team full-time gig since 2017 in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevy, Daly and whatever hairdo he choses will make their presence known bright and early on Day 2 Tuesday morning.)
Tony Kanaan confirms IndyCar career not over
He still finds himself more than a decade short of A.J. Foyt’s all-time mark of 35 Indianapolis 500 starts, but Tony Kanaan will always be one of modern-day IndyCar’s ‘iron men.’ Monday, the 47-year-old Brazilian confirmed his return to Chip Ganassi Racing for the second of his current two-year deal.
The tweet and ensuing press conference was merely a confirmation of what Kanaan, Ganassi and teammate Jimmie Johnson had announced more than a year ago. But last month, Johnson’s jump to full-season IndyCar competition in the No. 48 Honda led some to wonder if ‘TK’s Last Lap’ had held its final encore.
Kanaan insists he meant for 2020 to be his IndyCar swan song with A.J. Foyt Racing, complete with appropriate send-offs at each of his oval race runs from fans and tracks alike. But when Johnson came calling in the fall of 2020 looking for an oval-only partner to complete his own partial-season campaign in 2021, the 2013 Indy 500 winner couldn’t say no. Together, they inked two-year deals that would run in concert with each other – that was, until the seven-time NASCAR Cup series champ convinced his wife to give open-wheel ovals a go this year.
Still, Ganassi – who last year sold his NASCAR program and added a second full-time IMSA DPi entry – was willing to run five cars at IMS this May, a stark contrast to the two cars he rolled out just three years ago.
Among other things, Kanaan said he’s perhaps most excited to race ‘with’ Johnson after the pair filmed countless video projects for social media and served as spokesmen for the American Legion together, but were never on-track at the same time.
“We were teammates, but really not,” Kanaan said. “And there was never a doubt between us that we were finally going to race together.
“I jumped the gun three years ago when I said (2020) was going to be my last (Indy 500). We called it ‘TK’s Last Lap’, and we’re still doing laps.”
What 2023 may bring is anyone’s guess, he said, but particularly after starting in Row 2 a year ago and completing a somewhat disappointing 10th, Kanaan said by no means does he intend for this year to be his last. With 19 races on his schedule this year spanning four series, he’s as busy as ever, and he intends to be so as long as sponsors and team owners will continue providing the cars.
“I still want to do it (in 2023), and do I still think I can do it? 100%,” he said. “Look at what happened to Helio (Castroneves, who won the 2021 500 at 46). If we go and win No. 2, are we coming back?
“For now, 2022 is just another Indy 500.”
Foyt signs first driver who is a woman
More than 10 years after her last race in what is now Indy Pro 2000, during a two-year run with Juncos Racing that saw two podiums, Tatiana Calderon is back racing in the United States. Despite serving four seasons as a test driver for Alfa Romeo F1, the 28-year-old Colombian driver said Monday’s news that she’ll run road and street course races in the No. 11 Chevy for A.J. Foyt Racing in 2022 is about as close to her ultimate goal as she could imagine.
The development came more than six months after Calderon ran her first day in an IndyCar at Mid-Ohio following the series’ Fourth of July race weekend, where she put up competitive lap times in then-Foyt driver Sebastien Bourdais’ ride. Bourdais’ primary sponsor at the time, ROKiT, made the day possible, but behind the scenes this fall, the company was trying to seal a ride stateside for the driver they’d supported in Japan’s Super Formula and the World Endurance Championship since 2020.
Along with new teammate Kyle Kirkwood, who will run the No. 14 Chevy full-time in 2022 with ROKiT sponsorship, the company’s desire to expand its reach in IndyCar has allowed perhaps the team most in need of change to expand to three cars in 2022. No oval-only driver was announced Monday, though several with histories running for Foyt exist, including Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Perhaps after one year, Calderon said, she may look to run the full calendar, but running road and street courses made the most sense for now.
“Hopefully we’ll build up and test on an oval to see how my confidence with the car comes along,” she said. “Who wouldn’t love to do the Indy 500 one day?”
The most important near-future box to check? Meeting her new boss, who both she and Kirkwood admitted Monday they’ve yet to get acquainted with in-person.
“Obviously, I’ve read a lot of what he’s done with the Indy 500 and everything he’s won,” Calderon said. “It would be a privilege to share some experiences with him. Hopefully it will be very soon.”
Grosjean awaits Mercedes F1 ride
More than a year removed from his final race in Formula 1, Romain Grosjean is perhaps enjoying the sport as much as he has in several years. The global open-wheel racing series that nearly took his life via a fiery crash in Bahrain in November 2019 has turned into a spectator sport for the Swiss-born Frenchman.
Of last month’s down-to-the-wire title bout between F1 legend Lewis Hamilton and eventual champ Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi – controversial yellow flags, late-race pass and all – Grosjean said Monday, “My heart was pumping like hell.”
“Having two cars fighting one lap for the World Championship? That’s amazing,” he continued. “But I think it’s the wrong perception to think it came down to one lap. There were 22 grand prixes, and if we look at how many points were lost by Verstappen not by his fault, he was the one that deserved more the championship.”
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And that admission comes as Grosjean is still holding out hope to one day this year hop into the Mercedes machinery that delivered seven consecutive driver championships from 2014-20. After his Bahrain crash, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff promised to carve out a test or practice for the Haas F1 driver to end his time in an F1 car on a high note.
“I sent a message to Toto after Abu Dhabi – well, I let a few weeks go by,” he chuckled Monday. “And the last sentence of his reply was, ‘We need to get you in that car this year.’”
Unfortunately, should the run take place this year, it will have to come outside his home French Grand Prix, due to a conflict with IndyCar’s Iowa doubleheader in July. But with a neck that lost some significant strength since his F1 days and a left hand that underwent 14 hours of surgery two months ago, the new Andretti Autosport driver is ready to write his final chapter in F1.
O'Ward perplexed over FIA super license
Pato O’Ward needs an offer for it to matter – something he’s long said he wouldn’t turn down and what would be a dream come true. But the Arrow McLaren SP driver who finished 4th in the IndyCar title race in his first full-time campaign, followed by 3rd in 2021, wouldn’t be guaranteed an F1 ride for 2023, should he be somewhat surprisingly offered one.
Late last year, McLaren Racing completed a deal with Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson to acquire a 75% stake in the team, around the same time O’Ward tested a McLaren F1 machine during an offseason Abu Dhabi test gifted to him by McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown for the driver’s first career IndyCar win at Texas in May. The speed and physicality of the faster open-wheel car piqued the Mexican’s fancy, albeit delivering a sore neck afterwards, but O’Ward needs to finish at least fourth this year to qualify himself for a seat, should one open for him in the coming months.
It would be unexpected, given McLaren has its two F1 drivers locked up until at least 2023, and its been quite some time since an F1 team owner seriously considered an active IndyCar driver for an open seat outside his race team’s family. Still, count O’Ward a strong, vocal critic of the FIA’s super license system that requires a driver to accumulate 40 points to be eligible for a ride.
“It’s ridiculous that someone who’s finished 4th and 3rd in the IndyCar championship can’t get to 40 points,” he said. “I think many drivers agree with me.
"I haven’t really stressed about it though, because at the end of the day, you have to listen to the people that would give it to you.”
After the 2021 season, five active IndyCar drivers would be eligible for a current super license on points alone – each of the last three series champs (Alex Palou, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden), 2020 F2 runner-up Callum Ilott and three-time Supercars champ Scott McLaughlin. Notably, Colton Herta, the subject of serious F1 talks this fall involving his IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti’s bid to purchase Alfa Romeo F1 and transfer the young American driver to the series, sits eight points shy.
'Is that...Mike Tyson?'
If you find yourself at an IndyCar race this year and think you spotted perhaps the hardest hitters in boxing history, don’t blink. That may really be Mike Tyson.
Following a surprise shoutout from the former heavyweight champ on Twitter, congratulating IndyCar rookie Devlin DeFrancesco of his full-time ride with Andretti Autosport, the Canadian driver was asked Monday of the connection. Tyson, DeFrancesco said, is a heavy investor in psychedelic medicine company Wesana, who happens to sponsor the rookie driver.
The two met recently over a steak dinner in Los Angeles, and DeFrancesco hopes he can arrange an in-person visit over a race weekend later this year – perhaps the Long Beach Grand Prix just down the road.
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyCar: Kanaan confirms 500 ride, Grosjean discusses F1 test and more