WALLER, Texas--Finally! After a 12-week delay to the start of NTT IndyCar Series season, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball are primed to get back on track in primetime on NBC at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday night.
Debuting with the AJ Foyt Racing team this year, Kimball pilots the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet (road course configuration pictured above) as he returns to full-time status in the Series. At Texas, he still holds the INDYCAR track record of 222.747 mph for a single lap and 222.556 mph for the two-lap average he posted in winning the pole there in 2017.
Kicking off his #TKLastLap tour of the five oval races this season, Kanaan’s No. 14 Chevrolet will carry a throwback 7-Eleven livery. The Irving, Texas based company signed for a one race deal as they honor Kanaan who won the race here in 2004 as well as the 2004 series championship carrying the 7-Eleven colors. Kanaan will maintain his consecutive start streak with Saturday‘s race bringing his record to 318 starts. His streak began at Portland in June 2001.
A.J. Foyt will not be on the pitbox Saturday night as he will be watching from his home in Houston. It will be the first IndyCar race that Foyt has missed at Texas Motor Speedway. Team President Larry Foyt returns to the pitbox as the race strategist for Charlie Kimball this season.
Race engineer Mike Colliver returns to the team to engineer Tony Kanaan’s car this season. Colliver last worked for the team in the early part of 2018 through the Indy 500 of that year. Another veteran engineer Mike Pawlowski joined the team over this past winter to work with Charlie Kimball this season. Daniele Cucchiaroni will engineer the No. 14 when Dalton Kellett straps into the seat next month at the GMR Indy Grand Prix.
Following are excerpts from the drivers’ recent news conferences conducted earlier in the week by INDYCAR.
On Racing at Texas Motor Speedway…
Tony Kanaan: "I can't express in words how happy I am to be back racing in the NTT INDYCAR Series this Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. It's our first race of the season and we all want to put on a good show for the fans who will be watching on NBC during primetime TV. We're living through unprecedented times, so being able to give our fans good entertainment to watch is key. 7-Eleven is back on board for this race with an awesome throwback paint scheme on the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Chevy and we're hungry for a good result. It's going to be a one day event with a lot going on for us at the track, but I couldn't be happier to get the #TKLastLap campaign going and to be in a race car again, especially in Texas, home state of A.J. and 7-Eleven."
Kanaan is atop his 'horses' after winning at Texas in 2004.
Charlie Kimball: “I’m really excited to get back on track in the No. 4 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet especially at Texas Motor Speedway having sat on pole there with the track record in 2017 and being back with my INDYCAR family as socially distant as it will be. It will be hard and very different to be racing without fans, especially the Team Chevy fans, at the race track because that interaction is a large part of what I love about being at the race track. I’m glad everyone will be staying healthy and safe and able to watch the race live on NBC on Saturday night in primetime under the lights. It’s an honor for me to be a teammate again to Tony Kanaan as he starts his Last Lap [tour] in INDYCAR driving the 14 car. For me, getting to race for A.J. Foyt in his home state of Texas is extra special. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Billie Jean King, she says that ‘Pressure is a privilege’ so the added pressure of performing for A.J. in Texas is a privilege that I look forward to.”
Kimball is all smiles after winning the pole at Texas in 2017.
On finding the balance between aggression and caution…
Tony Kanaan: “I think we [are] all going to be a little bit more on the cautious side. I think everybody is going to try to get a rhythm, try to finish the race, try to get this one under our belt. It's an oval, the first race. I'm hoping that's going to be the approach. Talking to some of the guys, I think everybody is on the same page. You never know when the green flag drops, people have a tendency to forget and go for it.”
Charlie Kimball: “I think there is a healthy balance between taking care of the car, the equipment and my team. But also making sure to maximize the opportunity, and when it's time to be cautious in the race, I hope I know and understand the situation to be cautious and make sure that I pick my way through those incidents, and then when it's time to wake up and be aggressive and go for that result. Part of that comes down to the help I get from the timing stand, the voice of Larry in my ear, my spotter from the top, but also that experience. I think that's one of the places where experience really bodes well is you can read what's happening and read the character of the race.”
On preparing to practice, qualify and race in less than 12 hours…
Tony Kanaan: “There is not a lot of time. Basically, not a lot of options. We do have by mandatory by the series and Firestone, we have to scrub all the sets of tires that we [are] going to actually use in the race for safety reasons. That being said, that means four laps on each set, which is five sets total or six, so you're talking about 24 laps already you got to come in and out to get the shine off the tire. For me, I hope after 23 years in INDYCAR will be enough for me to get used to the windscreen and everything else.
"After that you got to get the car right. The car needs to be spot on out of the box from the shop. You're not going to have a lot of time to change things, to make big changes. If you're off, it's going to be a long night. Everybody is in the same boat.”
Charlie Kimball: “It's critical. We haven't run this car with an Aeroscreen on an oval yet. I haven't driven an AJ Foyt Racing car on an oval. For me, every lap we can turn in practice, as Larry said, the preparation is critical. The work I've been doing with the engineering staff and the mechanics to make sure that everything is buttoned up and ready to go, we've talked about communications, we've talked about responsibilities, we've talked about roles. We had a pre-race meeting on Monday where we talked about how the day was going to flow because when we step off that plane or walk through that health screening Saturday morning at the racetrack, it's going to feel like warp speed until the checkered flag flies and then some. So we have to be ready to be -- to take advantage of that track time and every moment we have at the racetrack.”
On not having race fans in attendance…
Tony Kanaan: “It is going to be really weird. I have no doubt that for me I don't think it's going to feel like a race weekend. It's going to feel like a private test with everybody in the series and that's it. Again, it's different times, right? Everywhere we go nowadays it's empty. Even when you go places, everything is different. Try to get my mind and my emotions wrapped around this new normal up until we can really come back to normal. I think it's going to be weird for sure. I'm glad that we're back racing at least.”
Charlie Kimball: “The fans are really what drives the energy on race day. You see that at Indianapolis for the 500. You see that at places like Long Beach with hundreds of thousands of people, 100,000 people on race day, and that energy, you can just feel the buzz in the racetrack building up to the green flag, and so it's going to be very different…I've already been thinking about how to ignore what's happening in the grandstand or in this case not happening in the grandstand and know that driver introductions and the parade lap and those sorts of things, the anthem, are going to be very, very different than what I've experienced in the past, and really focus on what the competition is going to look like and know that there are going to be millions of people watching on primetime, on NBC, at home on TV but not there at the grandstand.”
NBC Sports telecasts: Qualifying, 5 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (live); Race, 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (live). Pre-race show begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN.