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Kanaan Among The Cellu-Elite Of Athletes In All Of Sports

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 22 2009
Tony Kanaan is a lean, mean driving machine. (RacinToday photo by Mark Henderson of Really, Really Big Productions)

Tony Kanaan is a lean, mean driving machine. (RacinToday photo by Mark Henderson/Really Really Big Industries Inc.)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – Ask IndyCar Series star Tony Kanaan if a race car driver really is an athlete, and he will hit you with his body fat.

Not that there’s much of that on Kanaan’s sinewy  5-foot-5, 158-pound frame. Body fat is a lipid (fat) produced in the body, and may be influenced by diet, exercise and genetics. Body fat percentage is that percentage of body mass that is not made up of bone, muscle, connective tissue and fluids; that is, everything else.

An accomplished triathlete, Kanaan’s body fat recently was measured at 6.60. The guy can bench-press 310 pounds. In comparison, the average body fat of a 144-pound driver starting Sunday’s 93rd Indianapolis 500 has been calculated at 11.80 – proof that Kanaan’s training regimen is good for the body and the mind.

“It’s a choice of being fit and pushing myself to the limit,” Kanaan said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his daily grind inside the cockpit this month has been preceded by regularly scheduled workouts at St. Vincent Sports Performance on the city’s North Side. “If I don’t take care of my body, nobody will. And the race car actually makes sure I abuse my body a lot.”

A 13-time winner in the IndyCar Series, Kanaan has prepared for a variety of triathlons via the St. Vincent Sports Performance program.  Former Indy 500 winners Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice are graduates, as are Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and Indianapolis Colts starters Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark and Jeff Saturday.

Other St. Vincent clients include NBA players Jarrett Jack, Mike Conley, Greg Oden and Carl Landry; middle-distance track and field standout Bobby Kennedy and the entire women’s USA Gymnastics team, featuring Bridget Sloan, Shawn Johnson and Samantha Peszek.

Kanaan’s body fat number is lower than that of a two-year NBA veteran weighing 243 pounds (8.30) and considerably better than a  six-year NFL linebacker weighing 228 pounds (23.60).

“About my number… I should say I was not really impressed because I wanted to do better,” said Kanaan, 34, who gave media members an early-morning demonstration Wednesday of St. Vincent’s elite athlete process. “I have a goal. It’s 6.6 right now as far as body fat and I want it to be a 6 percent.

“But I never had that comparison with other athletes. Makes me feel better, for sure. Keeps myself motivated to realize it pays off. Because I’m at a gym every day. (Wednesday) I was there 6:30 in the morning, (Thursday) I was there 8 o’clock in the morning for two and a-half hours. I’ve been in the gym every day this week and last week even when we were in the car because we didn’t start (practicing) until noon. It’s nice to see a number where your efforts are paying off.

“At Indy, we are here the whole month. And if I don’t work for a month…although I’m driving the race car every day, even for myself it’d drive me crazy. It’s one less thing I have to worry about and for me, psychologically, it keeps myself really healthy.”

The 2004 IndyCar Series champion, Kanaan will start his eighth Indy 500 from the sixth position after a four-lap/10-mile qualifying run at 223.612 mph. Kanaan, the pole-sitter here in 2005, never has started lower than sixth at IMS, open-wheel racing’s grandest 2.5-mile stage.

Even more impressive is the fact that he has led at least two laps in each of his previous seven Indy 500s, topped by a race-high eight times for 83 laps in the 2007 edition that was flagged after 166 laps because of rain. Kanaan was a contender in that one until Lap 156, when he spun while trying to avoid the out-of-control car of Jaques Lazier.

“Actually, the only thing I think I should worry about is when I get to the lead,” said Kanaan, who has led a combined 214 of the 1,140 laps he has completed here. “Because every time I did, something happened to me. I don’t have a tendency or habit to worry about anything I can control. I worry about things I cannot _ basically the weather, somebody having a problem in front of you, somebody hitting you on a restart. Those are the things that I have a tendency to think because I know what I’ve done and I know my chances by now.

“And I’m pretty good judging that and say, ‘OK, I do have a car to win but I have this, this to happen or that has to happen for me to do so.’ So I really create my own strategy. Like I say, I worry about things that I don’t have control over.”

Kanaan, driver of the No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, is the highest-qualified driver from the four-car Andretti Green Racing stable, which includes Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Hideki Mutoh. Meanwhile, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 champion, and Ryan Briscoe qualified 1-2, with 2007 Indy 500 winner Franchitti filling out Row 1 in his new ride with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Franchitti’s teammate _ reigning Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon _ will start in the middle of a Row 2 led by second-generation star Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

AGR is winless and has not captured a pole through three events this season. The team’s largely uneven performances at IMS this month have led to speculation that the juggernaut fronted by Michael Andretti is on the decline.

“People are probably believing it,” said Kanaan, who nevertheless has built a one-point lead over Briscoe in the driver’s championship on finishes of 5-3-3. “But I think yes, they (Penske and Ganassi) have been quite fast. I had a pretty busy month. I drove five cars. I had a ‘slow car syndrome’ as I called it and we started a little behind. We ran together with those guys in race trim and I don’t think we had a lot to lose to those guys. But people have a tendency to pick the first two rows always to win the race. So I have to say I’m there…I’m outside on the second row. But they did show that they’ve been strong the whole month and we built up just a little slower, until race day.”

Kanaan qualified on Pole Day May 9 in a multi-colored Dallara/Honda that was basically one of Mutoh’s tubs with parts off of Tony’s spare car. The Brazilian dubbed it Frankenstein, in that the car was not going to win any beauty contests.

“The car is beautiful,” said Kanaan, who ranked 11th overall during Friday’s final, one-hour Carburetion Day practice with a top lap of 221.104 mph. “It’s repainted and when we repainted it, it did not slow down. In race trim I was pleased.

“It would be really selfish for me to say it was one of the worst (months) just because I had to work a lot more. The other ones I had a better car from the get-go so I didn’t have the stress about it. I guess out of all the six years, this is definitely the toughest one just as far as I had to work double but also the series has increased competition a lot. So I guess I better get used to it.

“I always try to look at the positive things. I said earlier in the month this is the first year that I see a lot of people saying, ‘Man this is your time. This place owes you this and that.’ But I haven’t seen people say, ‘Man, you look good. You look strong.’ So that pressure is out. Actually I’m happy because first of all I’m not the center of attention. And second, I’ve had a strong car here every time. Now people, including myself, don’t think I have the strongest. So that might be the way.”

His chances of winning Sunday?

“According to Vegas it’s 9-to-1, so I’m really going to hate to disappoint those guys,” said Kanaan, who finished a career-best second here to Buddy Rice in the rain-shortened 2004 race. “I think we have a good chance. I mean, we are in the mix to win.

“But this is the tightest field I’ve ever seen. I’ve been trying to pick a guy to win because we do a little pool between the drivers and this year I found it really hard to pick one guy. I don’t think we’re the strongest car but I had probably out of the six times I’ve been here, four times I had the strongest car out there and I still don’t have that trophy.

“And like I said, three times that I was in the lead something happened. So I will be thinking about it when I get to the lead…if I get to the lead on Sunday…for sure. Trust me. ‘What now?’

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 22 2009
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