CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Tony Kanaan -- ...

Tony Kanaan -- #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Lola

November 1-3, 2002 -- California Speedway -- Fontana, Calif. -- 2-Mile Tri-Oval Round 18 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.  The 500 this weekend will be his 92nd career Champ Car start.  To date, Kanaan has one win (1999 U.S. 500), three poles (1999 at Long Beach, 2001 at Chicago, and at Miami Oct. 6), six podium finishes, 15 top-fives, and 46 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).

Last weekend on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia, Kanaan started third and placed fifth in a bizarre, rain-shortened Honda Indy 300.  All but seven of 40 laps completed on the waterlogged temporary street course were run behind the pace car under yellow.  The event, for Kanaan and his fellow competitors, was nothing more than a guessing game about just what lap CART officials would decide to end it under darkening skies.  CART at first announced it would go 50 laps -- 20 less than the originally scheduled 70 -- and that 36 laps would make the results official.  But only on Lap 35 did the sanctioning body decide to announce it would be a 41-lap event.  As it turned out, the checkered flag flew at the end of Lap 40, with Kanaan in fifth place.  Had it gone 50, Kanaan would have been the winner as the four competitors in front of him would have had to pit under CART's mandatory pit stop rules.  It was Kanaan's fifth fifth-place result in the last eight events.

Last month, on the downtown streets of his hometown of Miami, Fla., Kanaan earned the pole for the inaugural Grand Prix Americas, the third pole of his career, his second with Mo Nunn Racing and his first this season.  Kanaan led fellow front-row starter Scott Dixon in a close battle over the first 19 laps of the race before the two made contact entering Turn One.  Dixon was knocked out of the race and Kanaan, who managed to stay in the lead, was sent to the back of the field by CART officials, who judged that he was flagrant in his actions.  On the closing lap, Kanaan made contact with the car of Michael Andretti while running seventh and his car stopped on course.  He placed ninth for his eighth top-10 result in the last 12 races.

A year ago here at California Speedway, Kanaan started 14th but turned out to be one of the fastest cars on the track on race day and finished fifth. He recorded the third-fastest race lap and led two laps overall.  He was making a final charge to the front when a single-car accident by Scott Dixon in the closing laps forced the race to end under caution.

This season, after a disappointing string of DNFs in the first four CART events (Monterrey, Long Beach, Twin Ring Motegi and Milwaukee), Kanaan mounted an impressive drive of eight points-paying finishes in the next 10 races, highlighted by podium positions in Vancouver and Montreal, the latter from 13th on the starting grid.  He also added a fourth-place finish (from the final spot on the starting grid!) at Road America and a sixth-place finish at Denver, as well as eighth-place finishes at Portland and Chicago.  Kanaan also was headed for what appeared to be a sure podium finish at Mid-Ohio when, while running third with just 14 laps to go, a mechanical problem ended his day.

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.

At the Milwaukee Mile 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.

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 Indy 500 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 and polesitter 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 38 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 has been working with a new engineer for the first time since he came to the U.S. to race Indy Lights in 1996.  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 engineered Mo Nunn Racing's Indy Racing League entry this season, guiding driver Felipe Giaffone to fourth in the final driver points standings.

Don Lambert, who joined Mo Nunn Racing last season as chief mechanic with the Pioneer-WorldCom Honda-Reynard program, has been Kanaan's chief mechanic this season and has been 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 has split 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 in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force).  Giaffone earned Mo Nunn Racing's first-ever victory in August at Kentucky Speedway and finished fourth in the IRL championship behind Sam Hornish, Jr., Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran.

TONY KANAAN QUOTES

"It's good to be back in Southern California.  You usually leave Australia on a high note, but after that rainy mess on Sunday, it turned out to be a miserable ending to an otherwise great week.  It'll be good to stretch our legs on the fast track at Fontana.  We did well last year and we might have won the race if it hadn't ended under caution.  It's going to be a crazy race, as usual, so the key will be to be up front when the racing stops.  We've run well on the ovals, for sure, so hopefully everything will fall into place for us."

-mnr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing