Tony Kanaan says he's dreamed of competing alongside -- and against -- longtime friend and countryman Rubens Barrichello, but he "never imagined it would actually happen and certainly not in the near future or in IndyCars."
With the announcement of Barrichello, the longest-tenured driver in Formula One (1993-2011), joining Kanaan and E.J. Viso at KV Racing Technology for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, "it's a dream come true," according to Kanaan.
It was at Kanaan’s invitation that Barrichello initially tested the next-generation IZOD IndyCar Series car at Sebring International Raceway in late January. Ostensibly, it was to provide feedback. But Barrichello was "having so much fun" that he canceled plans in Brazil to drive an extra half day on the 1.67-mile short course that mimics temporary street courses on the series schedule.
Quickly, interest on both sides grew and the exploration for commercial partners to back the full-season effort commenced. Barrichello also participated in a Chevrolet test last weekend at Infineon Raceway with positive results.
“I have a guy who has 19 years of experience in Formula One; one of the best drivers I’ve ever seen as a teammate that I can learn a lot and he can learn a lot from me racing on the ovals in the series," said Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion who is among the longest-tenured drivers in the series (his 148 consecutive starts is an ongoing series record). For the series it’s huge.
“We’re getting a guy who has the most grand prix races completed in history. For him, he is in a series where he can win races and not be just part of a field because the equipment is not capable of winning. So I am looking forward to the start of the season. I think it’s going to be a very exciting year.”
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard agrees.
“It’s an exciting day for the IZOD IndyCar Series and a positive step to start 2012,” said Bernard, who joined INDYCAR two years ago to the date. “We’ve said all along that one of the most important factors that will make the IZOD IndyCar Series successful is having the best drivers in the world, and there’s not a person in the world who knows racing that wouldn’t tell you that Rubens Barrichello is one of the greatest drivers of all time.
"I think it’s been interesting to hear the response of the other drivers. It’s been ‘This is great for us because it will show how good all of our drivers are.’
“That, to me, is important because the best in the IZOD IndyCar Series are saying ‘Bring him on. We want this guy.’ That will create great competition and expands our international platform. There will be millions of fans that will want to see what Barrichello can do. The other factor, which we saw last weekend at Infineon Raceway as he talked with fans attending the Chevy test, is that he’s such a great guy. That will resonate with our fans.”
Four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, who first crossed paths with Barrichello in 1987 in European karting competition, said the experienced driver increases the depth of the field competing on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports.
“It’s only a positive. He ups the level of competition in the field yet again,” said Franchitti, who will join 25 other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers for an Open Test next week on the 1.67-mile, 11-turn short course at Sebring International Raceway.
Added Franchitti's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, a two-time series champion: “I think it’s obviously huge for the series as Rubens has some real name recognition that he can bring to the IZOD IndyCar Series on an international level. With new cars and engine manufacturers rejoining our sport this year, the addition of Rubens just adds to the buzz surrounding IndyCar racing right now. I look forward to competing against him and all the drivers in the Target car when the green flag drops in St. Petersburg later this month.”
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"The entire series will get a boost with Rubinho's presence. It's another great name added to our grid," said countryman Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. "He will be fighting for the title, and the championship will only gain from that."
"Having Rubens in the IndyCar Series adds one more incredible talent to the field and guarantees that our race in Brazil will be even more crazy than usual," said second-year driver Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. "Rubens has been around racing for a long time and is so well-respected that he will be a huge asset to IndyCar racing."
Story via Dave Lewandowski at INDYCAR.com