Tony Kanaan ...
#10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Lola Rockingham 500-- September 13-14, 2002-- Pre-Race Notes/Quotes Rockingham Motor Speedway-- Corby, England-- 1.479-Mile Oval Round 15 of 19 on the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series
Tony Kanaan is in his fifth CART FedEx Championship Series season and his third with Mo Nunn Racing. This weekend's Rockingham 500 will be his 89th career Champ Car start. To date, Kanaan has one win (1999 U.S. 500), two poles (1999 at Long Beach, 2001 at Chicago), six podium finishes, 14 top-fives, and 44 top-10s.
Kanaan took over Mo Nunn Racing's #10 Pioneer- and WorldCom-sponsored CART entry this season after driving the third-year team's Hollywood-sponsored car in 2000 (Mercedes-Benz Reynard) and 2001 (Honda-powered Reynard).
A year ago here at Rockingham, Kanaan had the fastest car on the racetrack during practice and warm-up during a weather- and water-seepage-plagued weekend. Cars were gridded according to championship points, however, as qualifying was washed out, leaving Kanaan 10th on the grid on a track drivers found to be nearly impossible to pass on. He managed an eighth-place finish.
Two weekends ago, on the streets of downtown Denver, Kanaan qualified ninth and finished sixth in the inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver. It was his fourth top-six finish in the last five events, at streak that includes two podiums. Kanaan did not get to the podium in Denver, but he left town still having etched his name into the record books. His practice lap on Saturday morning in Denver of 1 minute, 1.601 seconds (96.252 mph) was the fastest tour of the 1.65-mile temporary street circuit all weekend, which earned him the distinction of holding the first-ever track record at the facility.
The previous weekend, at the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal, Kanaan scored his second podium finish in four events, coming from the 13th starting position to a third-place finish that earned the team a second Motorola Call of the Race Award in as many events. It was the sixth podium of Kanaan's career and his third with Mo Nunn Racing. He also finished third at the Molson Indy Vancouver on July 28.
Kanaan made another dramatic drive from the back of the pack at The Grand Prix of Road America on Aug. 18 at Elkhart Lake, Wis. He made a remarkable charge to a fourth-place finish from the 18th and final spot on the starting grid. He failed to record a qualifying time as a practice accident on Friday and mechanical trouble with the back-up car on both Friday and Saturday set the team back. The effort on Sunday earned the team's first Motorola Call of the Race Award this season.
In that streak of three top-four finishes in four events from Vancouver to Montreal, Kanaan conceivably could have had three podiums and four top-four finishes in four events had it not been for a mechanical failure with just 14 laps to go while running a solid third at Mid-Ohio.
The sixth-place finish at Denver two weekends ago kept Kanaan in the 13th position in the current driver standings with 63 points.
The recent streak of top finishes contrasts to a disappointing string of DNFs at the first four events this season (Monterrey, Long Beach, Japan's Twin Ring Motegi and Milwaukee). Kanaan scored only his second championship point of the season with a 12th-place finish at Laguna Seca. (He did earn one point for clocking the fastest lap of the race at Motegi.) He followed that with eighth-place finishes at three of the next four races (Portland, Chicago and Cleveland) before the podium result at Vancouver.
At the Milwaukee event the first weekend of June, Kanaan debuted a Lola chassis as the team made the switch from Reynard for the first time in its two-plus years of existence. He qualified eighth after running as high as third following Saturday-morning practice. In Sunday's race, Kanaan moved from eighth to fourth on the very first lap, and was running third when, on Lap 92, he was forced to retire from the 250-lap event with an oil leak.
Kanaan's most promising performance this season came at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, where he qualified second, led a race-high 72 laps, and recorded the fastest lap of the race before retiring with a mechanical failure on Lap 121of a scheduled 201 laps.
On Memorial Day weekend, Kanaan competed in his first-ever Indianapolis 500, joining Mo Nunn Racing's full-time Indy Racing League driver Felipe Giaffone in a second Hollywood-sponsored team car. Kanaan qualified fifth in the #17 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force entry-- the fastest rookie qualifier in the 33-car field-- and dominated the early stages of the race, leading 23 laps in all before an ill-fated accident while running first on Lap 89. Kanaan spun in the oil of fellow CART regular Bruno Junqueira, who suffered a mechanical failure in Turn 3, and made heavy contact with the outside wall. Kanaan was unhurt, but saw a promising day come to an end. He clocked the third-fastest race lap. Giaffone, meanwhile, went on to finish third in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force.
In 2001, Kanaan piloted the #55 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard to ninth place in the driver points standings. He scored points in 14 of his 19 starts last season, including eight consecutive events from Toronto through Laguna Seca, and nine of the final 10 events of the year. Season highlights included a third-place finish at Twin Ring Motegi for the team's first and his fourth career podium, and the pole qualifying effort on the mile oval at Chicago. He added top-five finishes at Vancouver (fourth), Mid-Ohio (fifth) and the 500-mile season finale at Fontana (fifth). Kanaan had six top-five qualifying efforts on the year (the pole at Chicago, third at Long Beach, fourth at Motegi and Toronto, and fifth at Cleveland and Michigan). The Cleveland (fifth), Toronto (fourth), Michigan (fifth) and Chicago (pole) qualifying efforts came during consecutive events.
In 37 career starts on oval circuits, Kanaan has one win (1999 U.S. 500 at Michigan), four top-fives, and 15 top-10s.
Veteran race engineer Iain Watt joined Mo Nunn Racing this season after working with Max Papis (1997-98), Cristiano da Matta (1999-2000) and Dario Franchitti (2001) while at Cal Wells' Precision Preparation team (1997-2000) and Team Green (2001) the previous five seasons. Thus, Kanaan is working with a new engineer for the first time since he first came to the U.S. to race in the Indy Lights series after the 1995 season. He worked with Eric Cowdin enroute to Indy Lights Rookie of the Year (1996) and the series championship (1997) honors while at Tasman Motorsports, moved up with Cowdin and Tasman to the Champ Car ranks and was CART Rookie of the Year in 1998, then moved to Mo Nunn Racing with Cowdin after the 1999 season. Cowdin is engineering the team's IRL entry this season. Don Lambert, who joined Mo Nunn Racing last season as chief mechanic with the Pioneer-WorldCom Honda-Reynard program, is Kanaan's chief mechanic this season and is joined by a majority of the Pioneer-WorldCom crew from last season.
Longtime race engineer Morris Nunn is in his third season as CART FedEx Championship Series team owner and his first in the Indy Racing League. He founded Mo Nunn Racing just prior to the 2000 CART season after leaving Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, where he was technical director during consecutive series championships by Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1999). Nunn also engineered Emerson Fittipaldi's 1989 Indianapolis 500 victory and CART championship while the two were with Patrick Racing.
This year, Nunn's team is splitting its time between single-car entries in both CART (Tony Kanaan driving the #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Lola) and the Indy Racing League (Felipe Giaffone driving the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force). Giaffone earned the team's first-ever victory last month at Kentucky Speedway and is clinched at least a fourth-place finish in the driver championship with last weekend's sixth-place finish at Chicagoland. The IRL wraps up its 2002 season this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, where Giaffone finished fifth in June.
"Well, we're going back to Rockingham, where we had a very, very good car last year but were never really able to do anything with it. We have every reason to believe we can be fast there. Our car has been very good on the small ovals, especially in Japan, where we qualified on the front row and led the most laps. I guess my biggest concern will be that we actually will be able to qualify our car. Last year, we had the fastest car every time we were on the track for practice. But we had to grid the cars based on points, and that put us 10th, and it was nearly impossible to pass on that track. So, first things first, let's hope for good weather when it's time to qualify and we'll be off to a good start ... I hope! We had a rough start to the season, but we're slowing creeping toward the top 10 in points. That's my goal ... to get into the top 10 by the end of the season. That, and to get (team owner) Morris (Nunn) his first CART win. Wouldn't it be great to do it right there in his homeland with his family and friends there to see it? That's motivation enough for me to do well. We've been getting into a groove in the last several races ... top six in four of our last five races, with two podiums. Now, it's time to move up a step or two on the podium. Let's' Rock!'"