- Associated Press - Thursday, February 24, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Former IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan has lost another ride because of sponsorship issues, which will likely park the popular Brazilian for most races this season.

Kanaan had signed on to drive for de Ferran Dragon Racing, but he didn’t secure enough corporate backing to make it to the March 27 opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.

As a result, the 3-year-old team co-owned by former Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran and Jay Penske, the youngest son of racing icon Roger Penske, will likely have to shut down.

The loss of a team run by such iconic names, not to mention Kanaan’s uncertain future, cast a pall over a series still struggling to regain the popularity it once had. Sponsorship problems, poor attendance and low television ratings have made it difficult to seize on any momentum gained by the 2008 merger between rival series.

“I want to thank everybody for the kind words,” Kanaan wrote on his Twitter page. “I will speak when I can, for now I can only say: I’m not giving up.”

The 36-year-old Kanaan is one of the sport’s most recognizable drivers. He won the IndyCar title in 2004 and has 14 career wins. About the only thing missing from his resume is a victory in the Indianapolis 500, where he has led 214 laps and three times finished in the top five.

He spent the last eight years with Michael Andretti’s team, driving the No. 11 car. But 7-Eleven dropped its sponsorship after last season, forcing him to part ways with Andretti Autosport.

Kanaan signed on with de Ferran Dragon Racing, which ran a full schedule the last two years with another Brazilian, Raphael Matos.

“I came up with some money, but not enough,” Kanaan told The Indianapolis Star, which first reported Wednesday he didn’t have enough sponsorship. “The bottom line now is, who will give me a deal and for how many races?”

Overshadowed by NASCAR, IndyCar racing has found it difficult to bounce back from a bitter, 12-year battle between rival series. The Indy Racing League and CART merged in 2008, but the economic downturn made sponsorship an ongoing problem.

Graham Rahal, one of the sport’s brightest young stars, couldn’t line up enough money to run a full season in 2010. He found a ride this year with Chip Ganassi’s powerful team, but now Kanaan’s future is in doubt.

The Brazilian said he doesn’t expect to land more than a few races this season.

“It’s hard to take, especially a month before the championship starts,” he told the Star. “It’s sad, but I’m going to keep fighting and go find something to drive.”

De Ferran, who had been seeking sponsorship for months, said it was “unlikely that we will participate in the 2011 Izod IndyCar Series.”

Only 18 drivers are confirmed for the upcoming season, though established teams such as Newman/Haas Racing and Dale Coyne Racing are still trying to put together programs. They are likely to need drivers who can bring their own sponsorship dollars, the sort of “pay rides” that have stymied attempts to get more Americans involved in the sport.

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