IRL: Tony Kanaan teleconference transcript 2004-09-21

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Sam Schmidt and Tony Kanaan September 21, 2004 Tony Kanaan MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. As the season winds down, the championship stories begin to...

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference
Sam Schmidt and Tony Kanaan
September 21, 2004

Tony Kanaan

MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. As the season winds down, the championship stories begin to take shape, we have two guests on today's call that are extremely close to securing Indy Racing League titles.

We're now joined by IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan. Tony enters next weekend's race at California Speedway with a 75-point lead over teammate Dan Wheldon. If Tony finishes fourth or better at California, he will clinch the series championship with one race remaining. He currently holds an amazing streak of 13 consecutive races with a top-five finish. Tony, thank you for joining us today.

TONY KANAAN: You're welcome.

MODERATOR: I know you don't want to jinx yourself by talking about the championship, but you have to feel fairly confident heading into the final two races with a 75-point lead. Can you talk about maybe the incredible consistency this year with 13 consecutive top-five finishes.

TONY KANAAN: You know, looking back to last year, I think we were looking to see what we could have done better. I think the only thing we could have done better last year was win more races. That's what we tried to do.

This year, so far we have succeeded. Like you said, I don't want to talk about the championship yet, but I have confidence that I can do really well. I don't want to break the streak of 13 (consecutive top-five finishes). I want to make maybe 15 top-five finishes. I think if I finish in the top five one more time, the championship, it's ours.

Again, I'm still going to Fontana with the mentality that I went to Chicago with, which is let's do our thing and do our best, and we'll collect the result at the end.

Q: Do you feel you've reaped the benefits this year of being part of a four-car team?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, for sure. I think the organization we have, at the beginning of the year people actually started to doubt us, saying, 'Actually, they can actually make it worse instead of better.' I think we proved to everybody that it's a big advantage if you know how to work with your teammates.

I keep saying again and again, we have such a great relationship that it's helping us all. I think that's why we've been doing so well. Having four cars, you have four different changes to make. When drivers work closely the way we do to make the car better every session, we can go four more times than a single-car team and twice more than a two-car team. So it's definitely a big advantage.

Q: Can you give us your thoughts on the new qualifying procedures for the Indianapolis 500?

TONY KANAAN: To be honest with you, I've only read about it. I couldn't understand a lot. I saw that they are going to qualify the first 11 cars on the first day, then 11 the next day. I don't know really. I think it's good for the fans. I think it's going to be exciting, but I'm going to try to qualify on the pole day. That's all that counts for us. I would say it's going to make it more exciting, for sure. All we care is about we win the pole day.

Q: Honda has their own guy doing a lot of research on aerodynamics for the chassis. How important has that been and how much of that actually has filtered down to the teams this year? Is that what has made the Honda-powered cars so competitive?

TONY KANAAN: Say again about the aero package.

Q: I heard Honda has their own guy working on their own aerodynamics.

TONY KANAAN: The wind tunnel program.

Q: How much of that has filtered down to you guys already and how much success has it had?

TONY KANAAN: It's been helping us a lot, for sure. Especially, we have two different chassis manufacturers. As much advantage as we can get, the better it is. We do have every single piece of information they find. That's in Honda's own interest to make the car better, besides the engine.

It's pretty amazing a manufacturer like Honda, instead of just worrying about the engines, they worry about our aero program, too. It's a big help. I think they proved with the results how much effort they're putting into it and how much work they did to get in the point we are.

We get 100 percent information all the time, anything that comes out of the wind tunnel program, because they work really close to our engineers. If they find something today and they can build for tomorrow, we'll have it for tomorrow.

Q: There's no secret that Honda has been pretty dominant this year. Was there a point in the season when you knew that the Honda package was this much better than the other two packages out there?

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I would say it started pretty early, which is good, I think. I went to Phoenix before we went to Motegi. I had the opportunity to try the latest 3.5 and the last 3.5-liter engine they made. And I felt it was great. I knew we had a very good possibility to win Motegi.

But right after that, I was concerned because we're going to go to the 3.0-liter, and we didn't know how it would run. We showed up in Indy. I didn't do the test. They had a test before the month of May. I didn't do it. But I heard from my teammates that we had something really good. It was already good from the beginning and there was more coming.

When they gave to us before the Pole Day, I knew if we could keep up the way it was, we would have a great year. Ever since, basically, they've been dominating. It's been awesome. So I would say from before Motegi, and then with the first phase of the 3.5, the last 3.5-liter engine, and then from Indy on, I knew it. I didn't expect us to dominate all the races, but I knew we had more than a lot of people. So I was pretty confident.

Q: Is there any way to describe why the engine package is so dominant this year over the other two guys?

TONY KANAAN: Why? Honda's people are very smart. They know how to make things. The only reason why I think we definitely showed a lot more this year than last year is because we had more time to work in the engine. Honda came in. You need to understand, they came in pretty late in the IRL program last year, which Toyota was working on his engines for a year before that already. So that's why they had the biggest advantage. Honda was brand-new. We try to keep it as competitive as we could last year. And this year they got their stuff together just understanding more and knowing what they can make it better.

It was just a matter of time for the success of Honda. It just goes down to a very, very good group of people working really hard to get one goal, which is to win. That's what they did.

Q: You were talking about how close the team works together, how big of an advantage that is. But when it comes down to this point in the season where you're going for the championship, is there anything that you withhold that might benefit Dan (Wheldon)?

TONY KANAAN: You're asking if I can help Dan to finish second?

Q: Is there anything you don't tell Dan?

TONY KANAAN: No, not at all. Not at all. Hey, you guys can see. One thing nobody can say is we're having team orders because, you know, I could have won the championship right after Nazareth if they had called Dan in Pikes Peak and Nazareth to let me finish ahead of him, which it didn't happen. The last race I could have finished second. Could have called Bryan and asked Bryan to let me by. Didn't happen.

We're racing. There is nothing I am going to hide from my teammates just because we're fighting for the championship. I think it's a matter of my principles first, and the team's as well. It's different sponsors that we need to represent.

You know, in my mind, to be honest with you, I want to win in a fair situation. I don't want anybody to give it to me. I want to get it because I'm capable to get it. I know I am. I know my team is. This point I really think I'm in a very comfortable position in comparison to Dan because I have everything he has and he has everything I have. Basically we are in the same boat. It's just going to be a matter who gets it right. Actually, he needs to catch up a lot more than I do.

I would say we've been working as close as we did before. There is nothing to keep us to telling each other things. The friendship, it's best it's ever been. We spend a lot of time together. So it's going to be a matter of what he can do to catch me and what can I do to run away from him.

Q: Do you take it easy to get the championship, or do you go all out for the victory in the race?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I'm going for the victory. But obviously, I'm not that stupid to throw it away just because I see the situation of winning the race. If I feel I have the car to do it, I will. If you watch the last four races, the people, they keep talking about the championship, but I keep racing for the win. I keep racing for the finish. But obviously, in the back of my mind, I always try to evaluate how good is my car and how much I need to save the car to win or if I don't have a car to win to finish wherever position I feel I have the car to do it. That's the way I'm racing right now.

Q: You were talking about not withholding information from Dan. Those of us who have covered open-wheel racing around the world know that's a very unusual situation that has developed at Andretti Green, the way you work so close together and work as one unit. How soon after you joined the team did you realize you had walked into something like that, and do you agree with me?

TONY KANAAN: First of all, I do agree with you completely. I think even myself, I raced in Europe, I've raced here. I've had pretty good teammates. I mean, good in the sense of good race car drivers and also good people to work with. I had Helio (Castroneves) in '97, I had (Alex) Zanardi in 2001. But I never had this, what I have with these guys.

I think it's unique because, like you said, in Europe, the first guy you hate is your teammate, because he's the first guy you want to beat because they have exactly the same equipment. But I don't think that happens in our team.

I think I realized that from the beginning because the team, it was built originally already with good guys to work with. I mean, it started with myself, Dario (Franchitti) and Michael (Andretti). Me and Dario, we've always been very good friends. People knew that from the beginning, so we knew it was going to work. Michael was obviously retiring, but it was a guy that, you know, he was our boss, and it was very easy to work with as long as you get to know him well. Dan just fit into the program really. I think he had a chance to analyze the way we had the relationship over the winter. He just clicked in right away.

Later on, Dario gets hurt, Bryan (Herta) comes in. It was a moment I felt, well, we're changing too many things here. Michael's retiring, Bryan is hopping in. All of a sudden I found myself the only one left from the original staff. But we had this thing going so well, that everybody fit in. Dario came back. Bryan fit in right away, Dan as well. We had a beautiful thing going. I swear, I don't think I will ever have a thing like this again, so we are going to try to make this last as long as we can.

Q: After the Chicago race, you were talking about how much you wanted to see Bryan in Victory Lane, because you've all been multiple winners. How disappointing was it to see him come so close?

TONY KANAAN: I tell you, I was probably more disappointed than he was. I knew I didn't have a chance to win, so I was trying to do everything I could to help him if I could. But, obviously, Adrian (Fernandez) was very hooked up, too.

It was disappointing. I mean, it was definitely a time that I was like, 'Man, Jesus.' But this is racing. I mean, still have two races to go. I still think he can do it.

Q: How much do you look forward to a place like California? Is this a track that guys look forward to racing on?

TONY KANAAN: I do. That's the first oval, first superspeedway I ever drove. It's a fun track. It's wide. A lot of places to pass. It's the place that I won my championship in '97. There's a lot of memories there. Fontana has a special place in my heart. A lot of good things that happened there before. A couple bad things, too, but that's racing.

I would say it's fun. I love it. I think Honda's almost hometown. I enjoy going to California, but especially the race in Fontana. I love the superspeedways. If you ask me, I would say I will go to Fontana any time.

Q: You talked about when you know you have a good car. How soon in a race or how late in a race can you tell if you've got the car to do it?

TONY KANAAN: I would say it goes by phases. Obviously, the beginning of the race you realize you might have the car, and you might not. But then, some people make changes during the pit stops, and all of a sudden they come back to you.

I would say in the middle of the race, you kind of evaluate everybody. Whoever had a chance to make it better would make it better after the last stop, then you go for it. I would say you need to divide the race in maybe two pieces: the beginning and then after the last stop. I would say the reality is after the last stop, that's when you realize what really you have in your hands to be able to win a race or not.

Q: Of the races that you have left, any track you feel more comfortable at?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, they're both superspeedways. I would say because I won Texas in the beginning of the year, I would say I feel more comfortable, more confident in Texas. But hopefully Fontana, I finished there third last year, but that's just numbers. You never know, it changes from year to year. Hopefully, Fontana will be a good place for us too. I would say Texas I feel more confident because I won a race there before in the beginning of the year.

Q: Talking about California Speedway, the memories that it has for you, you were racing against a teammate in '97. Here you are doing it again. How much is this de'ja vu for you?

TONY KANAAN: I knew you were going to ask that (laughter). It's unbelievable. I mean, eight years later.

Q: Things come around.

TONY KANAAN: Almost the same spot I was in '97, apart from it's not the last race, and apart from instead of having 12 points ahead, I have 75. But it's the same place.

I remember walking into Fontana in '97 Indy Lights on Sunday morning, walk into the track. I said, 'I won't get out of here today without a championship in my hand.'

It's a special place. For sure it's a de'ja vu, thinking what I had with Helio. Hopefully, it won't be as painful. I blew a tire, had to come in and make a pit stop, which is not very common in Indy Lights, because we didn't make stops. Hopefully, it will be easier. We have two weeks to think about between races, almost three. For sure reminds me a lot of good things. Going to be a good feeling.

Q: Is it a long time to wait between races at this point after you've been doing three-in-a rows?

TONY KANAAN: After you do like three races in a row, you're like, 'OK, I need a break.' But then you do one race, have to wait for three weeks, it's definitely painful. As human beings, we're always complaining about it.

I would say it's good and bad. I'm anxious to be able to do what I have on my mind, which is trying to win this championship. At the same time, it's good to take some time off. I definitely enjoy my time off back home, especially people that know that I live in Florida, so I didn't have too much time off preparing for hurricanes and stuff.

But it's been a good workout. At least I was home to try to take care of the house, the dog and the wife when all the hurricanes came.

Q: Did you go back to Brazil or just deal with (Hurricane) Ivan?

TONY KANAAN: No, I dealt with Ivan. I just closed the windows and stayed at home and waited for him. Thank God, it didn't pass here. Unfortunately, I have some friends up in West Palm Beach, in places that the house got damaged. What can you do? We can't control the nature. But I was here. I was here the whole time.

Q: Speak about the loss of Nazareth, not going back there to race again, with next year starting racing again back to the road courses.

TONY KANAAN: On the Nazareth thing, I mean, I'm sad to see it go because it's such a beautiful place to race, as a racetrack. Good place, challenging, the races are very competitive. But we race for the fans. If they don't show up to watch us, there's no point in racing. That I think was the biggest issue down in Nazareth.

But, you know, I think I told some of my guys, 'We should make the last race everywhere,' because I never saw so many people in my life at that Nazareth race just because they said it was the last one. We need to draw good crowds, and we're not doing it. They try for so many years over there, and somehow people wouldn't show up. We need to find places that people would go.

I'm sad to see it go. I think we replaced it with some road courses that I have to admit I'm very happy about it. My background, I'm a road-course kind of guy. I'm very excited about it. I think we're going to enjoy a lot. Hopefully turning left and right will make me enjoy even more my job more than I am right now.

Q: Did you and Helio have anything wagered on the championship before the season started?

TONY KANAAN: What? I'm sorry?

Q: Did you make any sort of bet?

TONY KANAAN: No, not really. I think Cristiano (da Matta) was the guy I used to make bets all the time. But, no, we didn't. We obviously knew the possibility that we both had, but we never really. We have fun with each other, but it wasn't really never had a bet. I'll try making one with him right now.

Q: What about your teammates, any kind of wager?

TONY KANAAN: My teammates, I didn't have time to think about the bets because I was thinking about the pranks all the time. We didn't make any bets. For sure if you guys follow us the whole year, we made Dan's life very miserable sometimes. So did Dario when he cut my bicycle in half. But no bets.

This year, actually I don't know why, probably we got caught in too much work and trying to put so many pranks on Dan that I forget about the bets. Good thing. You just reminded me. I might do some bets by now in the end of the year.

Q: Dan told us about the hair.

TONY KANAAN: I forgot about that. There was a bet with Dan. He lost his hair. It wasn't very fair because if you guys know what happened, we went to Michael's lake house. They had these quads to race, this little track. Dan says, 'You want to race?' As an Englishman, he didn't understand too much about quads. My quad was a 450. His was a 250. I said, 'Yeah, yeah, let's race. Whoever wins gets a haircut.' Obviously, I don't have a lot to lose because my hair is pretty short.

With 200 ccs more than his, obviously I won. Even cut the course. He didn't realize. He got a free haircut. I forgot about that.

Q: A report out this week that Cristiano will not go back to Formula 1. He said it himself. He is looking back stateside. How would you like to race against him again?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, I would love to. One of my best friends. I miss him a ton just as a race car driver, as a competitor, but especially as a friend. But Cristiano is taking a lot of time off right now. He's been through a hard time. I definitely think was really unfair what they did to him. But that's a friend's opinion. When you like somebody like I like Cristiano, it's tough not to be mad with the people that did it.

What makes me happy, they're not doing any better after they fired him either, so they should be looking around and scratching their heads. But Cristiano, I don't know what he's going to do. I think if he comes here, it will be a pleasure. I enjoy the guy. I would love to see him back to America.

But right now, I spoke to him a couple days ago, he just riding his bicycle right now, trying to beat the hell out of me when I get back to Brazil to work out with him.

He's thinking on his options, but I would love to see him back.

Q: Any triathalons planned in the near future?

TONY KANAAN: Yes. There is one in Disney World. Let's see how Fontana goes, then I can concentrate on my triathlon. I'm definitely going to do San Diego, next year, beginning of the year. But right now I'm just focusing on try to get this championship. Obviously, still working out a lot. I went to Aspen last week for five days training on the mountains with (Chris) Carmichael where Lance (Armstrong) used to train. Training really hard, but with one goal right now, which is the championship. I'll definitely do a lot more triathalons. Maybe one at the end of this year.

MODERATOR: We wish you the best at California.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you.

Sam Schmidt

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Sam Schmidt