Just when you thought that the Verizon IndyCar Series had run out of ways to surprise, 2016 came along. The championship was won by a guy who looked all at sea 12 months earlier, his closest rival didn’t even participate in the first race, and the winner of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was a recent F1 refugee who apparently figured out how to make a car work without fuel.
Twenty-four drivers made at least three starts during the 2016 season, and each one is a story. Join RACER each day as we retrace their journeys.
NO. 10 CHIP GANASSI RACING CHEVROLET
Preseason hopes: “Do my best and being aware that I did whatever I could regardless of the result, because sometimes the results don’t come.
2016 Best result: 2nd (Road America)
2016 Championship position: 7th (461 points)
Kanaan didn’t win a race, but he was consistent enough to finish just seven points behind two-time 2016 race-winner Scott Dixon. Is he becoming Ganassi’s answer to Helio Castroneves?
PRUETT: That’s a great way of putting it, but I’m sure it would piss TK off. Kanaan’s consistency is great to see after a few too many up and down seasons with midfield teams prior to landing with Ganassi, and I don’t expect it to change. The only area he’ll want to split from his old friend is the winless streak that dates back to Fontana 2014.
MILLER: Like his Brazilian buddy, it’s been a couple of years since TK made it to victory lane but they’re both still plenty competitive. Five times in the Fast Six is a good indicator of pace as well, and Ganassi was second tier to Penske everywhere, so he did a good job as Dixon’s wingman.
Could he have gotten any more out of his season?
PRUETT: Of course. The Ganassi team was a distant No. 2 to Penske, and trailed behind Ed Carpenter Racing, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the standings, but that shouldn’t be seen as an excuse for Dixon to be the only CGR entry to win last season. The Kiwi took both of Ganassi’s wins, and if there’s someone to put another victory on the board, Kanaan’s the guy. We know Dixon had most of the bad luck fall his way, but even when he was out of contention, I don’t recall many races where TK was in a strong position to win. If Road America went five more laps, the conversation would be different – but it wasn’t, so it isn’t.
The frustrating part is it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was missing. Known as one of the elite race-day performers in the series, TK earned his reputation as a passing machine by turning poor-ish qualifying positions into strong finishes. What we found last season was a bit different. His qualifying performances were quite good at most events, but in the race, there wasn’t a lot of forward progress.
He started inside the top 10 in 11 of 16 races. He made the Firestone Fast Six in six of 11 road/street course events. Altogether, through all 16 races, his average starting position was 8.8. The problem was TK’s average finishing position was also 8.8. It’s easier for a fast driver to pick off the tail-enders from a lowly starting position than to start fifth and motor past the four psychos leading the field.
Now that TK is starting in the thick of the championship contenders, finding a way to advance on the road and street courses is the obvious puzzle to solve.
MILLER: He needed one more of lap of green at Road America and he’d have run down Will Power (who was saving fuel) for the victory. He lost the thriller in Texas by a car length (he finished third), and who knows what would have happened if Indy (he ran fourth) was a shootout instead of an economy run?
It’s hard to see how much scope there is for Kanaan to get faster, but were there any signs in 2016 to suggest that his performance has started to go in the other direction?
MILLER: Not at all. As mentioned, qualifying on a street or road course is more about the driver than ovals and, other than a couple of misses at St. Pete and Mid-Ohio, TK was right in the mix, and especially impressive at Elkhart Lake. And you know he’s still going to be a factor at Indianapolis.
PRUETT: We saw – and he admitted – things had reached a plateau, which is why his friend Dario Franchitti stepped in to help find behaviors and habits to change that would deliver results. TK’s motivation to improve and be the best version of himself has never waned, and with his recent effort to find some of the fractions of time that were missing in the braking zones and on corner exit, I think we’ll see a faster driver next year – at the age of 42.