IRL: Kanaan grateful for chance to succeed

IRL: Kanaan grateful for chance to succeed

Two days on, Tony Kanaan remains jazzed about having won the MBNA Pole for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The Brazilian, who compiled a heady record in the Indy Racing League Indy Car Series last season when he won the championship and ...

Two days on, Tony Kanaan remains jazzed about having won the MBNA Pole for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The Brazilian, who compiled a heady record in the Indy Racing League Indy Car Series last season when he won the championship and completed every one of 3305 laps contested "can't complain" about the first week of practice and qualifying for this Indy 500.

Pole winner for the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500: Tony Kanaan.
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
"My car was good at the beginning," Kanaan related. He led practice on the second day of full field practice and ended up third overall in the combined practice sessions after Fast Friday practice on May 13th.

His practice results might have been a portent of things to come, but Kanaan had to wait, as did his competitors for rain to subside before he could attempt four qualifying laps for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Sunday, not Saturday as originally planned.

Third in the qualifying line, Kanaan ripped his quartet of laps in the 39.5- 6 second range in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone racer for a hugely consistent time of 2:38.1961 and 227.566mph. Then he had to wait. And wait some more while others tried to bump him from the top of the field.

"Honestly, Saturday was a long day for me, being third out. I couldn't really enjoy the moment, trying to avoid talk about it, trying to avoid even thinking about it," Kanaan related. "At one point I looked at the clock and realized it was 4PM and there were only two hours left in qualifying.

'At that point I decided to take a walk and wandered around for a bit. Then I checked my watch again, thinking a lot of time had passed and realized it was just 4:05PM. So yeah, it was a really long afternoon," Kanaan laughed.

"When you are the chaser, the day goes by quicker than when you're being chased. I think," Kanaan admitted, "we left something on the table. My best lap was my second warmup and that one didn't count." Later in the afternoon his Andretti Green Racing had Kanaan return to the qualifying line, just in case someone like Sam Hornish Jr. or Danica Patrick decided to give it another shot.

Only Hornish tried a second qualifying run and came close to Kanaan, posting four laps at 227.273mph and taking the middle slot of Row 1; Patrick's team elected to stand on her time and the rookie will start fourth.

Kanaan credits his team for not panicking when he was slower than expected on Thursday and Friday. "Michael [team co-owner Andretti] worked hard with me last year when I was going for the title and he's always there for us. We have debriefs together each day, me, Dario, Bryan and Dan and I must have asked him 10,000 questions by now. I want to learn from Michael; he's the best."

Tony Kanaan makes a big effort to keep himself fit for motorsports, going so far as to compete in triathlons and marathons when not behind the wheel. "I try to make myself better every time. I'm training more than ever before (and my wife isn't too happy about that) and in the best shape of my career. While that doesn't always translate to racing success, it's one less thing to worry about." Kanaan has 4 percent body fat, equal to the finest athletes worldwide.

Now, of course, it's time to look forward to May 29th and 200 laps around the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. "If I were to win this race, it would be great, especially for Michael Andretti. He's tried so many times. This is a long race, 500 miles and, while it's not harder than any other race, it's certainly more prestigious."

During the race there are so many variables each driver has to face. They'll be taking 8-12 pit stops over the course of the afternoon and there really aren't too many things one can do mid-contest to upgrade an ill- handling race car. "Our rear gurney is adjustable and that's the only thing you can do, but then you've got to compensate with the front wing, too. You have to be careful mid-race because you can lose spots making changes like that. It can be too risky."

The advantage of starting on Pole at Indy is dictating a clean start for the balance of the 33-car field. "It's just an advantage for the start, though. Once you catch traffic you need a good car so we have to have the best car for the race. Otherwise, all you do is move back."

Tony Kanaan realized Danica Patrick would be a true contender for MBNA Pole; the 23-year-old garnered media attention throughout the first week of practice with her icy demeanor and quickness behind the wheel. Patrick ended up posting the fastest practice speed of the meeting in Sunday pre- qualifying testing, at 229.880mph.

But she couldn't follow through in her 10-mile timed laps when a bobble in the first turn of her first lap scotched any hopes of being quicker than Kanaan. The attention Patrick's been getting doesn't faze the Brazilian ace. "She's a fast female racer," he acknowledged. "When Danica goes out to qualify, the place goes nuts; when I go out people clap politely. She's doing really good and everybody likes her.

"It doesn't matter whether she's male or female; when we pull down our visors we are racers. It's very good for the series to have someone like Danica Patrick involved. I'm not jealous at all because it brings attention to all of us. It feels good to beat her, though," he grinned.

Tony agrees with most of the drivers on-site at the Brickyard oval who believe there won't be much side-by-side racing like the League normally has with its smaller, more heavily banked ovals. And Kanaan doesn't think the new surface with its diamond grinding is going to change that. "The track has a lot of grip but the nature of Indy is such that you're not like to see three abreast. If you do, somebody's going to be in the wall."

Starting tomorrow, Kanaan and the balance of 21 drivers who have already qualified for the 89th Indy 500 must change their focus from four laps to 200. But the glow of starting first won't fade for Tony Kanaan until it's time to pace the race in another week and a half.

When he realized he'd gotten pole position for the biggest race of his career, Kanaan was "very happy. How many guys actually do that? But now I've got to win the race," he declared. "I'm proud of my job [in accomplishing the feat], proud of my team and that's one more accomplishment. I thank God a lot because I'm really fortunate. I have help from a lot of people."

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Series INDYCAR