An Interview with Tony Kanaan, T.E. McHale, CART News Manager, Moderator October 6, 1998 T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us this afternoon. Our guest this afternoon is the 1998 Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year award...
An Interview with Tony Kanaan, T.E. McHale, CART News Manager, Moderator October 6, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us this afternoon. Our guest this afternoon is the 1998 Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year award winner in the FedEx Championship Series, driver Tony Kanaan of the Tasman Motor Sports Group.
Tony, welcome, congratulations from all of us at Championship Auto Racing Teams. Thanks for being with us today.
TONY KANAAN: Thanks, T.E. Glad to be with you guys. Actually, all the time I talk to you guys brings me luck, so. I hope I can bring this luck to Australia.
T.E. McHALE: We hope so, too.
Tony, driver of the No. 21 LCI Reynard Honda clinched the Rookie-of-The-Year award and the $50,000 prize which goes with it by finishing third at Sunday's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston in Houston, Texas. That performance gave him an insurmountable 86 to 33 lead over second place Helio Castro-Neves of Bettenhausen Motorsports in the rookie point standings, with a maximum of 44 points available in the season's final two events.
Tony's outstanding rookie season has seen him score PPG Cup points in ten of 17 starts, including five of the past six. He is closing the season with a rush, having recorded both of his career best third place finishes in the season's two most recent events on September 13th at Laguna Seca and last Sunday at Houston.
Tony's consecutive top three finishes have made him the first FedEx Championship Series rookie to record back-to-back podium performances since Alex Zanardi finished first and third respectively at Mid-Ohio and Road America in 1996.
Alex went on to win that year's Rookie-of-the-Year award and past winners of the same honor have included Jacques Villeneuve in 1994 and Nigel Mansell in 1993. So Tony is in some pretty select company.
The 1997 PPG Dayton Indy Lights champion, Tony heads into the October 18th Honda Indy at Surfers Paradise, Australia, in ninth place overall in the PPG Cup point standings with 86 points.
The Honda Indy, round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised via tape delay on ESPN, on Sunday, October 18th, beginning at 8:30 p.m. eastern time.
With that, we will open the floor for questions.
Q. In watching the TV Sunday, you seemed to be ecstatic about the rain there.
TONY KANAAN: I was very happy actually. I love rain. I knew that the dry conditions, we had the chance, but it was going to be a lot more difficult. I knew if it was raining the way it was, I would have a lot more chance.
I knew it was a lot more risky, but I love rain, so I knew what I could do. I was completely -- I was very excited, very happy.
Q. Tell us what you do to prepare yourself for a rain race. Do you do anything to your helmet, to your visors or anything like that?
TONY KANAAN: To be perfectly honest, I change my visors. I always use the dark one. I changed to the medium one. That's the only change that I did. Probably I change my face as well. I had a big smile. That's all to change (laughter).
Q. Typically when you talk to drivers that have been through a rain race, there's about a thousand near misses that occur, just things that somebody in front of you loses it or just circumstances bring you very, very close to disaster but you manage to slip on through. Does one particular event stand out in your mind, thinking about the race on Sunday?
TONY KANAAN: Well, to be perfectly honest, we had three big moments. In the start when I do the fairway spun, and touch Bryan Herta, I get away from that. The next corner, because Gil did a 360, put Bryan in the wall. Next corner he spun again, I almost hit him again. Then when Greg Moore spun in the second lap with Christian, I get out of that as well. That was pretty critical three big times that I had in the race.
Q. How was your heart at that particular moment?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I don't know to be honest. I think my eyes was really big and my heart like probably 180 beats or something like that.
In these kind of situations, to be honest, we have to have a lot of luck, because there's nothing you can do about it. You can't see very much. You can't brake because it's completely slippery. You need to be lucky, to be in the right place at the right time.
Q. I know before the race, you said that you've always done well in the race. This was your first race in a Champ car in the wet.
TONY KANAAN: In America, to be perfectly honest, since '96. We had a little rain at Portland once in '96, but wasn't a wet race because they red flagged the race and it became dry. Last year, rained as well in Portland, but became dry again. So was my really first full race in America that it was raining.
But I remember all my records, I went through that. My mom give me a call after the race, and they said -- I was asking her how many races I won in the rain. We have tape and everything, my go-cart races. Every race was winning in my go-cart in Brazil, all my five years, I won all five of them. So I was approximately 15 races in five years under the rain, and I won all of them.
Q. What is it like driving for a talent like Steve Horne. He found somebody else named Rahal that turned out to be a pretty good Champ car driver, found you out winning the Indy Lights title last year, driving the first full year in the Champ car series. What is it like to drive for that guy?
TONY KANAAN: It's an honor, to be perfectly honest. I'm not the right guy probably to talk about Steve because we have a very good relationship so I always going to say good things about him.
But it's honor. I have a lot of respect of him. I always said it's more than a team-and-driver relationship. We became very good friends, very close friends. Like I said, it's honor. I'm glad he give me a lot of confidence and he stays with me on the radio all the time.
One of these last race in Houston was that. He like try to keep me calm and concentrate. I knew at some point of the race, Adrian was a lot faster than me. I could see in my mirrors, I ask him, "How is my lap time?" "You were the fastest car in the track, don't worry, go ahead. I like, "What he talking about?" I know I have a lot of guys faster than me.
It's a good relationship, it's a good feeling.
To be perfectly honest, I try to follow his advice all the time because he has a lot of experience. He found Bobby, wasn't just him, Bobby, it's a very good talent. There's no doubt about that. His results prove that. But Steve has a big part of that, as well.
I don't know. I hope one day I can became -- when I grow up, going to be like Bobby. I don't know.
Q. Let's ask you to look ahead to Australia. Your general thoughts going into that place. If I'm not mistaken, that will be your first time there in a Champ car?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, it's my first time in Australia, my first time at the racetrack. I'm looking forward to go there.
I think, to be perfectly honest, looking at the type of track, it's my type. I love street courses. I think we have a pretty good chance over there.
It's the last road course of the year. It's going to be my last chance to try to win a race in the road course. I'm going to try.
I clinched the rookie again, so I probably will be a little bit more I would say comfortable, not worry about too much things. I already won the rookie, so I don't have to worry about which place I'm going to have to go, which place I have to finish to clinch again. So I can probably try to risk a little bit more.
Of course, always, you know, evaluating the car that I have, if I don't have the car to win, I can try, but I don't have to do stupid things and don't finish the race.
The goal now is to finish in the Top 10 in the championship for points. So I'm going to try to go there and win. For sure, we've been two consecutive podiums, so I'm happy. I'm start like to go there. So I'm going to try to keep doing this.
Q. We had heard a report that you were considering a move, the Chip Ganassi team had considered signing you as a replacement for Alex Zanardi. How far along did that go in negotiations and were you interested in that ride? If it didn't come about, what was the reason for that?
TONY KANAAN: To be honest, I received a call from Chip Ganassi one week after Laguna Seca. He wants to talk about that. I told him I had a contract with Steve. By that point it was going to be Steve's decision to decide that.
I told Chip, I'm pretty happy where I am. I like my team. You know, I wasn't expect to move. So that's completely up to Steve. I have to put those guys in contact. They call. Steve start talking to him.
Suddenly I think Chip find another way to go, just said, "Thank you, Steve. Thank you for your attention, but I'm going to go something else." That was it. I didn't try -- I don't try to get involved too much because I was still playing for the rookie, still going to do my job that could make me lose concentration a little bit.
Of course, Ganassi is a good team. The results prove that. They won the last three championships. But I love my team. I really like Steve Horne. He gave me the opportunity to drive the Champ car for the first time in my life, gave me the opportunity to win the Rookie-of-the-Year.
It was completely up to him, was his decision. They talk, and actually Steve didn't have to decide anything because Chip really move up before he had to do that.
I'm just proud because somebody else was looking for me, but I'm happy where I am. That's where I'm going to stay for two more years.
Q. Was it more of a case then of Steve not wanting to let you go, because in some cases I guess owners, if a driver feels he can better himself, if the driver really wants to go somewhere else, he's released even if he still has a contract?
TONY KANAAN: If I ask Steve to leave, I think he would let me go because he's my friend. But I told him, it was his decision. I don't want to decide that.
I told him, "Steve, I'm very happy where I am. I don't want to change anything." That's what happen. I mean, to be perfectly honest, Steve is a guy who can answer you all the questions because I didn't got involved at all. I receive one phone call. I sent to Steve and he did everything.
Q. Obviously, considering the success that Ganassi has had, you must be really confident that your team is going in the right direction. That's an awfully tempting avenue to want to pursue, to go with Ganassi because of the success he's had? For you to remain with Tasman, you must think the relationship is not worth breaking, that team is a coming force?
TONY KANAAN: Well, sure. I trust a lot in my team. I know where we are. To be perfectly honest, we just need more money to test. We have some equipment than Ganassi, with very good people working for us. We need just test more.
So I trust in my team 100%. To be perfectly honest, I 23 years old, I taking my time. I know I can win a championship. I'm not hurry. I have a lot to learn. Going to a big team right now, you never know, I still think I have a lot to learn. I don't know can you say.
To be perfectly honest, I think Tasman have a pretty good chance. They give me the opportunity, and I want to give them the first championship for them, the same way they give to me in '97.
Q. In watching you race this year, you always seem -- everybody is having a bit of fun, but you're almost having giggling fun, if I might say.
TONY KANAAN: I'm having the time of my life. It's my dream come true. To be honest, I read an article that somebody did about Jimmy Vasser in a magazine a couple weeks ago. Jimmy says, race, it's not everything in our lives. I realize that that's true. I've been racing for 14 years. I love what I'm doing. I am at the place that I always wish to be.
Why not have fun? Why be so tense all the time, so stress about results and everything? You know, if you have a talent and a good team and you are completely -- you're doing your job the way you're supposed to do, the results will come.
So that's one thing why I'm having so fun. The other thing is because, I mean, it's my dream come true. Everything's going so well for me. Like I said, I am at the place that I always wish to be.
So, I mean, that's the way. I remember when I was young, start racing go- carts, I had a lot of fun. The night before the race, I couldn't sleep because I couldn't wait for the time getting into the go-cart and go to race.
Then I went to Italy. Since '93, through to '97, last year, I lost this little moment to having fun. I was completely tense just to do well, to achieve my goal, to achieve my dream.
Last year after all the problems that I had in the beginning of the season, I had the problem with my neck, my leg, I cut a nerve and I lost the movement, I had a really hard time to pick up the pace. My teammate was winning all the races. I found that I should have fun again, the way when I was 13 or 12 when I started racing go-carts.
Since then, exactly a year ago when I won the last championship, I decide that I will have fun again. That's what I'm doing. Seems work. I'm going to keep doing that.
Q. When you were going through those struggles, were there moments that you said, "If I can't find that fun, I need to find something that I can have fun with"?
TONY KANAAN: Sure. Of course, I never thought to give up. But the way that you put it I don't think was the right way. I would say, yes, I wasn't having fun, but I wouldn't give up and find something else to have fun, because that's what I love to do.
I wouldn't have fun if I would play soccer, have the same fun I would have to driving race car. So I should work myself to find a way to have fun, because that means if I had fun before, why not have fun again?
So that's what I did. I found the way again, so. The way I would say set goals that you want to achieve and try to do that. The beginning of this year -- last year in the middle of the season, I said, The goal is to win the championship. Right now I'm second, what I have to do? I just have to try to do my best and win the most of the races and finish in the podium to win the championship.
At the beginning of this year, I said, We can go ahead and try to win the Rookie-of-the-Year. A couple podiums will be good. We already did both. But I did both before the season end, so I set another goal now, probably try to win a race, the last two races, let's see which one we can do it, finish in the Top 10.
That's the way it's going to be. When we finish the championship for next year, I'm still have to think about what I want to do, which goals I'm going to set for next year.
Q. Something tells me it will be the championship.
TONY KANAAN: I'm going to think about that. It's still pretty soon to talk about that. Let's finish the season first.
Q. At Houston, Walker announced they were adding a second driver to the team, a Japanese driver. Gil de Ferran commented some of the load of testing would be taken off his shoulders. I have a feeling if you had enough sponsorship, you'd like the exact opposite. Do you see an advantage to being the only driver on the team, in other words, seek time is always good?
TONY KANAAN: First of all, call Gil, tell him if he want to send me a couple test days, I will be happy to take that. I'm not worry about that. I'm not going to be tired to be in the race car.
I think, to be honest, be by myself on the team is very good at one point because I have all the attentions on me, everybody's concentrate to do the job just for me.
But I had a very good teammate last year. He was pushing me. All the time I went to the track, I knew if I made a single mistake, he going to catch me and pass me or start in front of me. Sometimes this is good to push you, to bring the level up, you know, to make you go for it.
We are human beings. We sometimes are like, let's say we are running 55.5, that's the limit, someone runs 55.1, I can do that. Then you try to do a 49.9. You like 44 -- 54.9, sorry, the guy like, "How he did that?" He try go better than you. That's the challenge. Sometimes you need to be to challenge you inside your team, to give you the little boost.
I learned this from Steve, because when he give me two years, I say, "Listen, Steve, what you trying to do here? You trying to go me crazy?" He's going to give me a lot of work. He's like, "Yeah, that's why you're here."
Q. Speaking of seat time, is it always good to get more seat time, whether it's on the racetrack during a race or test session, or is there a point where too much seat time actually becomes counterproductive?
TONY KANAAN: To be honest, everything which too much is too much sometimes. I'm not asking to be in the race car every day, but not just ten days of testing like we did this year. I heard some people did 50.
I would say 60 days is too much in a year. But I would say, you know, not ten as well. Too much is too much. I think some teams doing too much. What's happening by the end of the year, the drivers are completely stressed out and completely tired. They like, "My God, I have to go testing. My God, I have to go there."
It's a pretty stressful. It's 19 races. Next year is going to be 20 races, plus the test and everything. Travel, planes. I would say too much, you're right, is too much.
Q. I've heard from a team owner who has run you in another series that you're very quick at acclimating, you're a very good test driver, you can give feedback. What in your background do you think contributes to those qualities which are not found in every driver?
TONY KANAAN: Who told you that?
Q. Tom Gloy.
TONY KANAAN: Tom Gloy. I had a very nice time that time.
To be honest, I learn in a very hard way. I never had the money to race, so I never could race for the best teams because when you're in the small, if you don't have the money to pay the good teams, they not make you race.
I always had the medium to the worst teams, so I had to work really hard to try to bring my team at the top, to the top teams, without too much money, but learning a lot about mechanical stuff and everything.
Because of that, when I went to Italy, where I didn't have any money as well, so I live at the shop for three years. All the three years I was in Italy, I live at the shop. I learned a lot with my mechanics and engineers.
To be perfectly honest, not exaggerating, 24 hours a day in the shop because I live there, I wake up there, I did everything there.
That was a very good. I realize that now. At that time I hate that because I was really young, 17 years old, want to go out, want to have fun. I was in Italy always at the shop.
That's why I learned a lot, doing a lot of tasks. Try to learn the most that I could because I knew that will help me a lot. That's what it was.
Q. As you go into Australia, you're going to be going in there, sight unseen track for you, but I assume you probably looked at videos and maybe done some simulation stuff. From what you know now, where do you think you're going to see some advantage for yourself?
TONY KANAAN: I would say I watched the tape and I played in my Play Station here. I think it's my kind of track. I don't think I will have any advantage, but I will be in the same level than everybody else.
I would say when you go to a new track, then somebody else been racing there for three, four, five years, you're a little bit behind.
I would say the team have a very good setup for there. I think I'm going to need three, four, five laps to getting used to the circuit, then I'll be ready. I wouldn't say I will have any advantage, but I will be in the same level than everybody.
Q. I couldn't help but notice in your bio that one of the things you love to do for vacations is to go to Disneyworld. Something tells me that it's not the food, but the E Ticket rides that you love so well. Is that close to being accurate?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah. Well, I love Disneyworld. I have a lot of fun. When I was young, I always looked for to go there. My dad passed away the year that I should go. So that was big for me.
To be honest, my first time in Disneyworld was last year, so I had a lot of fun. I love that.
Q. You talked about doing the race in the rain. Can you give me kind of an idea, contrast a Champ car to some of the other cars that you've driven in the recent past in terms of rain performance?
TONY KANAAN: I would say they all look same because when it's raining, it's always slippery. I would say the Champ car, you have to be very careful on the throttle. The other cars, you always spun in the brake points because you're trying to brake deep. In the Champ car, you can spun in trying to put the power down.
You have to be smooth in the throttle coming out of the corners. But they all look the same. In the rain, you have to drive very slow and very careful.
Q. The width of the tires, bigger, less visibility?
TONY KANAAN: For sure. The tires are bigger, so the spray is huge. To be honest, was really bad this weekend in the start. I couldn't see anything.
Q. Looked that way.
TONY KANAAN: You're praying, too, Where is the corner? Turn left or right? Where I am?
Yeah, it is worse because the cars are much bigger, so the spray is much wider. In the starts, when we have like three cars wide, taking all the straightaway, for the people behind, the spray is completely unbelievable.
T.E. McHALE: Tony, looks like we're going to get you out of here on schedule. I want to say thank you for being with us this afternoon. Congratulations again on the Rookie-of-the-Year award. Best of luck for the remaining two events of the 1998 FedEx Championship Series.
TONY KANAAN: Thanks, T.E. I'm looking forward to coming back and talking to you again.