Kanaan Giving IndyCar Lessons In Team Building
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – In a season that has seen “little guy” teams stand tall on IZOD IndyCar Series podiums, KV Racing Technology, Tony Kanaan and his prominent proboscis definitely fit the profile.
Kanaan ended 11 years of frustration with his victory in the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 last month, giving KV Racing Technology its first win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Six days later, rent-a-road-course specialist Mike Conway of Dale Coyne Racing won Race 1 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans. Meanwhile, Race 2 at Belle Isle Raceway in Detroit last Sunday was won by Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports.
Six different drivers – from six different countries – have claimed victories through the initial seven races, including three who have earned their first wins. In addition to Pagenaud, the first-timers are Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing and two-time winner James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport.
Michael Andretti’s three-car lineup featuring reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and son Marco Andretti certainly rates as a juggernaut. But while five different teams have joined in victory celebrations this season, the list does not include either traditional powerhouse Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Team Penske.
“This championship is so wide open,” said Kanaan, referring to the point deadlock at 206 between Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti of his dad’s team. “If you look at the names there in the top six, I would bet you that nobody would predict that that was going to be the case.” Hunter-Reay is third with 191 points, followed by Scott Dixon of TCGR at 186, Pagenaud at 177 and Sato at 175. Rounding out the top-10 are Justin Wilson of
Dale Coyne Racing with 169, Kanaan at 160, Hinchcliffe at 154 and Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing at 149.
“I was 15th before the 500,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Hydroxycut Dallara/Chevrolet. “Look how many places I jumped. If we keep winning our number will come down in a hurry, for sure.”
The series continues Saturday night with the Firestone 550k on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval here. The race will be telecast live at 8:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The IMS Radio Network also will carry the event live on Sirius and XM Channels 211.
A native of Salvador, Brazil, living in Miami, Kanaan has posted 10 top-10 finishes in 13 starts and led 305 laps at TMS, including a win in 2004. He will be looking to become only the third driver to win the Indy 500 and Firestone 550k during the same season, joining Arie Luyendyk in 1997 and Dixon in 2008.
Kanaan, who joined the team co-owned by Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven in March 2011, is well-versed in big-team vs. small-team. Kanaan spent the first eight seasons of his IndyCar Series career with Andretti Green Racing, which became Andretti Autosport in 2010. Included in that tenure was his championship season of 2004, when he completed every lap in his No. 11 entry. But when longtime Dallas-based sponsor 7-Eleven pulled out of the series in October 2010, Kanaan learned all about “the new normal” facing job-seekers.
Kanaan had three years remaining on a contract with Andretti that reportedly paid him $3-million per year. Looking to avoid likely lengthy legal proceedings, Kanaan took a reported $1-million buyout and became a free-agent.
Kanaan then tested for and signed with de Ferran Dragon Racing on Dec. 20, 2011. De Ferran Dragon Racing
was fronted by Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 winner and Champ Car World Series champion in 2000-01, in partnership with Steve Luczo and Jay Penske, a son of Roger Penske. But de Ferran announced at the end of February 2011 the team would not compete because of a sponsorship shortfall. Kanaan became a free-agent for the second time 32 days before the season-opener.
“KV Racing Technology took me out of my misery,” Kanaan joked during a promotional tour in Cowtown after his Indy 500 victory. “I’ve been trying for the past three years to give them a win and it couldn’t come at a better time and in a better place. So as usual, Jimmy Vasser is a funny man and I love his quote which is – I totally disagree with him – but he says, ‘I know I couldn’t win the 500 so I had to hire the guy that could.’ I owe a lot to them and my sponsors.”
Kanaan, who never has finished lower than ninth in the IndyCar Series standings, has 16 career victories in 264 starts. Kanaan established the KVRT record for highest season-ending point finish with his fifth-place total in 2011, when he was teamed with Sato, E.J. Viso and Tomas Scheckter. In 2012, Kanaan was paired with fellow-Brazilian and former Formula One regular Rubens Barrichello and Viso. This season, TK has served as mentor to first-year teammate Simona de Silvestro.
“Tony is the consummate professional,” said Vasser, the 1996 CART champion with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “He’s been a leader of the drivers since he was younger, back in the days of Dario, Greg (Moore). Just a lot of camaraderie. He’s always out there to help younger drivers coming up with different information. He’s just a great leader of the drivers.”
Along those lines, Kanaan said he never allowed self-doubt to overwhelm him at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I always tried not to because your head is your worst enemy,” said Kanaan, 38. “I knew every time I’ve been there I was in position to win. Everything had to fall together for us to do that and it happened (on May 26).
“The pressure to perform, it’s always going to exist – on a big team, on a small team. I put enough pressure on myself. I think people know my skills and they know how talented I am, and so do I. You’ve just got to put yourself in a position. I think after a while, when you achieve so many things in your career you shouldn’t be having to prove yourself to anybody. You have to be smart enough to know when it’s time to go, because that’s probably the
hardest part to decide when you’re not doing as well as you should, which, thank God, I’m far away from that right now.
“But the pressure is always going to exist. The teams, with the sponsorship and all the effort that we put (forth), I never took it on as it’s now-or-never. I took it as it’s another chance. Now I get to prove that the people that had to let me go, if they’re going to regret it or not.”
Kanaan said he certainly has taken pride in helping to build Indianapolis-based KVRT, which scored its first Indy car win with Cristiano da Matta at Portland, Ore., in 2005 and first Indy car pole with Vasser at The Milwaukee Mile that same year.
“I was always a big believer that you don’t need …you need the budget,” Kanaan said. “You definitely need the budget to build a race team. But you also need the right people. Because how many dream teams did we have, not just in racing, but in basketball, and you put all these good guys together and they’re not able to beat probably an average team because they really, really work as a team. And there’s no selfish reasons, there’s no egos.
“So I brought the band back together, actually. My engineer (Eric Cowdin) is the guy that I won the championship with in 2004; my crew chief (Jeff Simon ) and three of my mechanics (Kris Badger, Kelly Potter and Kyle Sagan) were the guys…all the races that I won in my career, those guys were with me. So I’m proud of that.
“And when I had the unfortunate situation when 7-Eleven left and I lost my ride, to me at that point I had achieved so many things in my career I said, ‘You know what, now it’s probably time…I want to race but I also want to have fun.’ I went back to the years that I was a little kid that you race but it didn’t matter if I won or not. I wouldn’t be mad. It was that feeling that I’ve been racing for big teams for such a long time the pressure was so big that I stopped enjoying it in a way. And that I wouldn’t celebrate wins the way they should be celebrated.
“Now I’m getting too emotional. What I’m trying to say is when I came to KV, I said, ‘Yes, we’ve still got our work to do, we’ve still got to be professional and we’ve still got to win races. But we’re going to have fun.’ And I got all my best friends together and we built this little team and look where we are.”
Before he exited Indianapolis as champ, Kanaan had his likeness cast for engraving on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Kanaan’s instructions to the engraver revolved around his nose. I said, ’Get extra lead and make it as big as you want. I want it to stick out,’^ said Kanaan, who turned serious when noting his likeness permanently will line-up along 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon and 2012 winner Dario Franchitti.
Wheldon won his second Indy 500 in May 2011 while driving for team-owner Bryan Herta in a season that ended with the popular Englishman’s tragic death in the finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Franchitti, a four-time series champion, earned his third Indy 500 victory last year for Ganassi. Wheldon, Herta, Franchitti and Kanaan were teammates at Andretti Green Racing from 2003-05, seasons highlighted by TK’s championship in ‘04 and Wheldon’s first Indy 500 win and championship in 2005.
“If you look at the Borg-Warner, it’s going to be Dan, Dario and my face _ three together on the same row, three years in a row,” Kanaan said. “So if I didn’t believe in destiny before, I guess I need to start thinking about it.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment