WATKINS GLEN NY - JULY 02: Tony Kanaan driver of the #11 Team 7-Eleven Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda talks with Ryan Hunter-Reay driver of the #37 Team IZOD Dallara Honda during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on July 2 2010 in Watkins Glen New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Andretti Autosport had good news and bad news for IZOD IndyCar Series fans today.
The good news? Ryan Hunter-Reay, the man who parlayed a four-race deal into a full-season ride and a 7th place points finish in 2010, will be back with the team for two more years.
Unfortunately, Tony Kanaan - Andretti Autosport's longest-tenured driver - definitely will not be back for 2011. The Brazilian, whose trademark outside-groove dashes to the front thrilled and frightened racing fans for years, received a buyout from the team and is now an unencumbered free agent.
Kanaan, who delivered a championship in 2004 and 14 wins along the way, was reportedly getting in the neighborhood of $3 million a year from Andretti Autosport to drive IndyCars. However, with the tough financial climate stemming from the American economic recession and changes in corporate strategy, Kanaan found himself without longtime backer 7-Eleven (who pulled back to associate sponsorship on teammate Danica Patrick's #7 Dallara).
The dearth of sponsorship available in IndyCar meant that, as of today, Kanaan also finds himself without a ride.
"When 7-Eleven notified us that they would not be returning as the primary sponsor of Tony's car in 2011, we were left with a very challenging situation," team owner Michael Andretti said in a statement released today. "Given the timing of that notification, we felt it was important to give Tony the freedom to review his options outside of Andretti Autosport.
"We understand firsthand his value as a driver in this series and we did not want to prevent him from furthering his career in the event we could not arrive at a reasonable solution for him for 2011. Today we agreed that the best option for both Tony and the team is to allow him the freedom to sign with another team."
But for fans clamoring for more American presence in IndyCar racing, Hunter-Reay's signing comes as cause for celebration. Hunter-Reay's deal means that, as things stand, Andretti Autosport is an all-American effort - at least from the cockpit - with the Florida native joining Patrick and Marco Andretti as standard bearers for the Stars and Stripes.
Incredibly, this is Hunter-Reay's first multi-year IndyCar contract - a contract that finally allows him to shed his "journeyman" tag. "Starting the job in October, rather than in March, will be a luxury I've never had before. I look to add to my four Indy car wins and become a title contender throughout the season," he said.
Every silver lining has a cloud, of course. Hunter-Reay still has no (announced) sponsorship, and Kanaan is a great example of a driver whose long-term security can evaporate in the blink of an eye and the signature on a contract buyout. Then again, Hunter-Reay's price tag is likely significantly cheaper than Kanaan's, so his job seems far more secure.
Andretti Autosport's driver announcements are the first salvos in the IndyCar silly season. The next announcement is most likely going to be regarding Graham Rahal, whose long-rumored and extensively negotiated deal to drive for a "top IndyCar team" - almost certainly Target Chip Ganassi Racing - should be revealed in a matter of days.