ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Kanaan is not taking anyone's place.
And he's definitely not replacing his good friend and teammate Dario Franchitti, who, in an unfortunate turn of events, retired following a horrific October crash in Houston. Franchitti suffered a spinal fracture, right ankle fracture and a concussion when his No. 10 car flew into the Turn 5 catch fence, injuring 13 fans.
Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, enters this IndyCar Series season — which begins with this weekend's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — as the new driver of Franchitti's No. 10 car. But he does so with Franchitti's blessing.
“At the beginning, I had mixed feelings until I had a chance to talk with Dario,” Kanaan said. “As he was forced to retire, he expressed to me his feelings for the 10 car. And when he did, it didn't become a problem to me anymore — it became an honor to drive No. 10.
“He said to me, 'Look, man, I can't race anymore. I know your history and I want you to drive my car.' It wasn't really his decision, but that he accepted it, too, made it much easier for me.”
Kanaan, a 39-year-old Brazilian, joins the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team with fellow drivers Charlie Kimball, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, who won the 2013 IndyCar championship. And Franchitti isn't far away, staying on as a team adviser.
After eight years with Andretti Autosport (and its predecessor, Andretti Green Racing) and three with KV Racing Technology, Kanaan signed with Ganassi in October, the same time the team announced it would switch from Honda to Chevrolet engines.
It's a great move for Kanaan, who was signing small sponsorships for most of last IndyCar season.
“I feel like I'm in the best position I could possibly be in the past four years,” said Kanaan, who won the 2004 IndyCar championship. “There's a lot of pressure, but I like pressure. I translate it into motivation. I'm excited for the (season to) start.”
There has been a bit of transition with Kanaan moving into the No. 10 car.
“(Communication) with him, some is in Portuguese and then broken English, so that's different,” said Dixon, a three-time series champion from New Zealand. “I think T.K. is a great driver. He's won a championship. He's won many races. He may be stronger in other areas and weaker in others. I think we can make it a strong 1-2 punch.”
Briscoe is enjoying getting to know Kanaan.
“He's definitely a fun character to have around,” said Briscoe, an Australia native. “He's always a lot of fun. He's aggressive. He's definitely got a unique driving style that I've picked up on the last couple tests, which is interesting to look at and learn from, as well.
“How he's going to fit in? He has his own style, so I think he'll fit in the way he always does — I think he'll be good.”
Kanaan calls the race venue on the streets of St. Petersburg “a beautiful place” that's special to him, not only because it's the former home of the late Dan Wheldon, but because Kanaan has six top-10 finishes in the event.
Kanaan wants to continue his successful run.
“I know that I have to work day-in and day-out to put a good car and race forward,” Kanaan said. “I didn't start racing to become famous or to be a personality. It happens by default. I try to show my personality, but people come to cheer you and buy your gear because you race well. That's what's I'm going to do.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.