Race Day: Tony Kanaan Says, More Milk Please

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 25 2014

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan has goal of becoming two-time Indianapolis 500 champion. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – After you have swigged the milk and donned the laurel wreath and had your likeness engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy, it’s difficult to not think about winning another Indianapolis 500. That is the delightful dilemma facing Tony Kanaan this morning during the final hours of his reign as champion of the world’s biggest auto race.

“I try not to think about it, but I know I can (win again),” said Kanaan, referring to today’s 98th running of the Indy 500. “What’s going to happen if we do that, I don’t know. Like I never planned how I was going to celebrate my first one. But it would be a neat story. It took me 12 years to win and then when you do it back-to-back, it would be pretty cool.”

Kanaan’s victory with KV Racing Technology, the team founded by former CART champion Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven, was recognized at the start of Saturday morning’s traditional Drivers Meeting in the Speedway’s Tower Terrace section.

“Being the 500 winner, my schedule is quite busy,” said Kanaan, who spent part of Tuesday morning competing in the inaugural event on Wahoo Racer, the world’s largest multi-lane water slide at Hurricane Harbor in Arlington, Texas. With the Indy 500 six days away, Kanaan found time to promote the Firestone 600 night race scheduled for Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on June 7.

“It’s a good problem to have. If I have to have this problem again next year, I don’t mind,” said Kanaan, acknowledging that his victory at Indy truly has been a life-changing experience.

“Obviously, I don’t know how many people can say that you achieved your longtime dream,” said Kanaan, a 39-year-old native of Brazil living in Miami. “That’s what we do, right, as far as athletes. You always

Tony Kanaan won the big one last year at Indianapolis. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

have goals _ you want to win the Super Bowl, you want the NBA championship. I mean, for me…it changed my life not in a personal way of saying I made more money or I’m more famous. Those all came with it. It was already a very popular win but now it’s like I can barely walk in the city. Everybody knows you, everybody knows what you’ve done and the recognition is much bigger. And not just around Indy. But like at the (Dallas-Fort Worth) airport, it’s, ‘Hey man, good luck! What are you doing here?’

“The whole Tony Kanaan image became a lot bigger and with that comes, the way I take it, a lot more responsibility as well as representing the series as an Indy 500 champion. You’ve got to watch yourself in many ways to set a good example. So that has changed a lot.”

Kanaan’s Indy win was the 16th of his open-wheel career and snapped a winless streak that had reached 43 races dating to 2010, his final season with Andretti Autosport. Kanaan, who won the series championship in 2004 for Andretti Green Racing via three victories, 15 top-five and 16 top-10s, largely was perceived to be slipping into mediocrity at KVRT. And then TK won the Indy 500!

“I’ve never had to prove to myself I was a good driver,” said Kanaan, who punctuated his 2004 title run by completing every lap of all 16 races. “I always thought I was pretty good, and really successful. But for people that questioned if I could really win the Indy 500, I think it was probably more for them. Myself, every time I went to that race I knew I had a chance to win but for one reason or the other we didn’t. Oh yeah, it makes you feel proud. I believed that I could _ and I did. It definitely makes you feel proud.”

Kanaan now is four races into his first season with Verizon IndyCar Series powerhouse Target Chip Ganassi Racing as the man who replaced four-time series champion Dario Franchitti. A three-time Indy 500 champ, Franchitti was advised to retire after suffering a concussion, two spinal fractures and broken right ankle that required surgery in a crash during the second of two races on the Streets of Houston last October.

“Overwhelming,” said Kanaan, referring to his intramural change of team shops here. “Obviously, from a tiny little team with a tiny little budget and we do things by the dollar, and counting the pennies, to a team that has all the resources you need. ‘Whatever you need _ just ask.’ It’s like we ran out of man-hours to develop everything we can (at IMS), because the resources are there for us. ‘Whatever it takes to win.’ And for us, we couldn’t have that mentality last year because we didn’t have all the money to do whatever it takes to win. So you concentrate on two or three little things and you go and make it happen.”

Additionally, Kanaan said his job as driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet has provided perks beyond a parts bin that runneth over.

“For me, personally, the big weight that got lifted off my shoulders was I don’t have to worry about finding the sponsorship _ and driving the car,” Kanaan said. “Right now, I’m back to a normal race car driver’s life _ just worry about driving. I have to say I didn’t mind that I had to do it (hustle sponsorship) but like in the beginning of the year, I was home for a couple of weeks and it was so weird that I didn’t have a lot to do. You work out and I would come home and be on the phone with the sponsors and catching-up…the team does that for me. It was a big change for the better.”

Kanaan qualified 12th and led 34 laps en route to his victory at IMS last year. He will launch defense of his title from 16th on the 33-car grid after qualifying with a four-lap/10-mile average of 229.922 mph. But almost on cue, Kanaan and teammate Scott Dixon, the three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion, emerged 1-2 at the end of Friday’s one-hour Carburetion Day practice around the 2.5-mile oval. Kanaan’s top speed during a 46-lap stint was 227.838 mph; Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champ, logged 50 laps with a best of 227.773 mph.

While Kanaan cautioned that Carb Day numbers typically are not what they seem, it was a solid way to end his Month of May.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” Kanaan said. “I’m very happy with my race car, so that’s where it counts. Last year I really wasn’t happy with the car that I drove and I think we have a better car, but the field is definitely more competitive this year. So we’ll see what’s going to happen. Obviously, qualifying didn’t go the way we wanted but again, if you look at the people that won in the past few years, they started back there. Dan Wheldon started 16th in 2005 and won…and Dario started 16th in 2011 and won. It’s a long race, you have to plan how to do it, yes. You know, the race really starts at Lap 180.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 25 2014
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