Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA team principal Mike O’Gara believes Tony Kanaan was the “natural choice” to replace the injured Sebastien Bourdais, despite the Brazilian IndyCar star not having any prior experience at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Kanaan was confirmed as Bourdais’ sub on Wednesday, which will see the 42-year-old team with reigning GTE-Pro class winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 68 Ford GT.
“It was a natural choice,” O’Gara told Sportscar365. “When Seb got hurt [at Indianapolis], we all got huddled that night, CGR management and Ford management… Tony was the unanimous decision.
“I talked to him the day after Seb’s crash and said we felt it was better to put someone that’s already in the Chip Ganassi family in the car and force them to learn the track than find a guy that knows the track that we would have to get acclimated with the car.
“Tony said that’s what he gets paid to do and he’s happy to do it.”
Despite being a part of the team’s IndyCar program, Kanaan has relatively limited Ford GT experience, having made his one-and-only start to date in the car in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona as the third driver in the UK-based No. 69 entry.
He finished fifth in class at Daytona, having logged just under eight hours of drive time in the race, which he also led at one stage.
“He’ll be fine,” O’Gara said. “He’s already familiar with the car and all the controls in it. We’ve been sending him little tidbits of how slow zones work and give him track maps and that kind of stuff.
“We were trying not to flood himself with it, especially as he was concentrating on the Indy 500 [last week].
“I think he understands his role. He’s more than likely not going to be qualifying the car. He’s going to be our anchor man. He’s fine with that as he’s happy to come here.”
With Kanaan not taking part in this weekend’s Le Mans Test Day due to his IndyCar commitments at Detroit, his first laps of the 8.5-mile circuit will come in Free Practice on Wed., June 14.
In the meantime, O’Gara said he will get time on Ford’s state-of-the-art simulator in North Carolina and will also complete the ACO’s mandatory sim session on Mon. June 12, but as a result, will miss the team’s scheduled scrutineering appointment.
O’Gara said they’ll likely use Wednesday’s practice session primarily to help get Kanaan up to speed.
“Depending on how the test day goes, if there’s major changes with the car, we’ll put Dirk or Joey in first to do some laps,” he said. “If we’re pretty happy with the car at the end of the test day, we may just throw Tony straight in.
“What we always do with our guys, whether it’s IndyCar or these cars, we’ll let them do some laps, stop, look at some data and some in-car video while the other guys are running, overlay some data and let them go back in.
“In the matter of laps I think he’ll be right up to speed.”
O’Gara joked that Kanaan, however, shouldn’t necessarily take the advise of every person on the CGR team, however.
“The biggest thing is [knowing] which chicane turns which way, because I always forget when I race it in Forza!” he said. “If he gets that down, he’ll be fine!”