CHAMPCAR/CART: Tony Kanaan interview

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Our guest this afternoon is driver Tony Kanaan of Mo Nunn Racing who returns to the FedEx Championship Series competition from injury this weekend just in time to defend his Championship...

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Our guest this afternoon is driver Tony Kanaan of Mo Nunn Racing who returns to the FedEx Championship Series competition from injury this weekend just in time to defend his Championship in the Michigan 500 presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway. Good afternoon, Tony, welcome back and thanks for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. TONY KANAAN: Thank you and I am sorry I was late but actually I was getting my arm fixed to be ready for Sunday. T.E. McHALE: Well, we are all looking forward to your return, no question. Quick update on Tony. The driver of the No. 55 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard, he has been sidelined since sustaining a broken left forearm and four cracked ribs in a June 17th qualifying accident at Detroit. He has missed subsequent FedEx Championship Series events at Portland, Cleveland, and Toronto, but returns this weekend in hopes of improving on the first year Mo Nunn Team's season best finish of 8th at Nazareth. Tony became an unexpected winner of last year's Michigan 500 presented by Toyota when he took the lead on the final lap from Max Papis who had led a race high 143 laps, but ran out of fuel just two turns from the checkered flag.

Tony's 0.032 second margin of victory over Juan Montoya was the second closest in Champ Car history.

He led seven laps of that event.

Tony is in his third season of FedEx Championship Series competition. He is the 1997 Dayton Indy Lights Champion and the 1998 winner of the Jim Truman FedEx Championship Series Rookie-of-the-Year Award.

Heading into Sunday's Michigan 500, presented by Toyota Tony, stands 20th in the Championship with 11 points.

The Michigan 500, presented by Toyota, Round 11 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ABC TV this Sunday July 23rd beginning at 1:30 P.M. eastern time.

With that, we will open it up to questions for Tony.

Q. How do you feel right now and do you feel you are ready to get back into a car? TONY KANAAN: Well, definitely. I am feeling that I am not 100% yet, but I have a very good -- I had a very good recovery and I think that is why it took me back so quick, but the arm is still a little bit sore and I am doing go-kart runs all the time. Actually I am going to do that in a half an hour again for 200 laps by Dr. Trammell's house to get my arm stronger. I lost a lot of muscles, but I think I feel that I am ready. I know I am not going to be 100% until we get to Mid-Ohio because it takes actually eight weeks to heal the bone completely, but we took some X-rays yesterday and the bone looks fine; looked that it's healing pretty good and hopefully I can come back and defend my title in Michigan this weekend.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about the strategy that went into your winning efforts last year - very competitive race with the Hanford device and all - how do you plan for a race like that? TONY KANAAN: Well, the plan is to have a very good race car in traffic. This was what we did last year. We got caught by -- we lost the wicker and we kind of changed strategy in the middle of the race last year. But like I went a lap down, but when you have a good car in traffic, you can pass people. That is all you need and that is what I had last year, and that gave me the win. Of course with a little bit of help from Max, but this year we are going to really work hard to get the best setup on traffic for the race. I don't think -- everybody wants to start on pole, for sure, and you want to be the fastest guy, but 500-mile race, as long as you start in the top 12, I think you will be all set as long as you have a good race car in traffic.

Q. That Hanford device, there has been 90 some lead changes in the last two races there; what does that add to the race or subtract from it? TONY KANAAN: I think that was a good change that CART made and it is a lot more competitive right now with that and you can draft a lot more and it is more exciting for the public so that is what counts. It is safer for us, I think, and that is what I think was a good change and I am looking forward to go back there.

Q. I was just wondering you mentioned the other day you were going to go through an on-track test Thursday so the doctors could see if the screws in your arm are going to be okay. Is that still the plan or are you definitely racing Sunday? TONY KANAAN: Well, I can't say 100% yet because they want me to test the car on Thursday, but actually the test of the screws, we did it yesterday because I have been running -- like I did 450 laps already - actually 600 laps already in a go-kart. We took X-rays yesterday afternoon, me and Terry and we checked it - it looks better than when we took it before when we start running so what he said was as more as you move your arm in the right way you -- it makes the thing heal fast, the bone heal fast and everything. So I am still waiting for okay from Kirk Russell, which is the CART Chief Steward, on Thursday if I can run my car because I can run go-karts. I can run whatever I want, but I really want to check myself in my race car. But my personal opinion, I don't think it won't be any problem.

Q. Congratulations on last year's win here. Do you have a preference as far as your racing experience; whether you like to race on super speedways like Michigan or road courses, and have your successes come on either one of those? TONY KANAAN: Well, definitely I like more road courses than street courses. It is funny because the only win that I have it is an oval. But I definitely getting used to the ovals. It was something that I had to get used to since I am racing here in 1996, so it is kind of new to me, but I prefer more road courses, but I think the success that I had in CART, actually it was more in the oval because that is the only race I won. I had a couple of pointers in the road course, but I really like more road courses. But definitely -- right now I would say it is 50/50 because -- well, I don't like ovals, but that is the only win that I got. And I love road courses, but it looks like for some reason we still have to work on our setup. There is a lot of things that have to happen to make me win in a road course yet.

Q. As far as what preparation -- other preparation besides talking about doing the go-kart racing, and doing the laps, what other preparation have you done as far as physical therapy and things for your injuries? TONY KANAAN: Well, I am lifting weights in a little amount. I started with two pounds four weeks ago. Right now I am already in the 25, doing really progressive stuff, just to move the arm. It is nothing you can do to heal the bone quicker. So the -- I am only doing the weights to keep the muscles working and to keep the arm because I lost a lot of muscle in my left arm. It is basically -- it is a patient game. You have to be really patient and just move gently and I am squeezing some soft balls to get the motion in the fingers because -- I had a cast for a couple of weeks, so it gets pretty -- it is amazing how much muscle you lose in a couple of weeks and the movements and everything. That is the only thing that I am doing. I am going to start swimming on Monday after the Michigan race to get more strength, but that is basically -- I am doing some cardio, but it is just to not lose my -- the thing that I built in the beginning of the year, the strength and everything.

Q. I hear Dr. Trammell runs a special torture chamber. Can you describe some of the stuff that you have to go through when you go up to visit his place? TONY KANAAN: Okay, the most painful one he is keeping me away from Florida for two weeks already, so that is really tough. I like Indianapolis, but Florida is much better. Trammell has been really, really nice with me and he is doing everything that he can and the amount of time we have to make me come back. What I am doing is a lot of go-karting and he doesn't give me any break. I am doing 100 laps in 15 minutes and then I have ten minute-break and I have to put some ice on and go out and do 100 more and then he puts me in a pool and he makes me swim for half an hour; takes me out of the pool; gives me 15 minutes break and puts me back in a simulator that he has in his house. I have to keep driving around Michigan with Bryan Herta's car which makes me feel bad. And that is it. That is basically what he is doing. He is sending me after that to the gym all the time. I have to lift some weights and then run for an hour. So I have been working out more than I have ever in my whole life. I told him I hope I don't break anything else because he is a killer. Every time I have to go see him, it is just like unbelievable, I am like, come on, Terry, you are -- are you a doctor or a personal trainer.

Q. One other thing, this year it seems it may be helping you a little in the point situation. Nobody seems to dominate for very long. Do you have any thoughts on that? TONY KANAAN: Well, that is for sure. It is a good thing for me, to be perfectly honest, we probably have right now and the accident, I don't think we can win a Championship anymore. We are going to concentrate and do our best now and win some races and finish, for sure no top 6; I would say Top-10, to build the team strong for next year that is what I think what we need. We need to get some momentum and I was getting there and then I kind of stopped that with my accident and the team is brand new. Mercedes is coming with new stuff, so everybody is growing up every single race. Right now my goal is to go out there. I worked really hard this time that I had off in my head and I am pretty strong and I am not going to let anything to just take some victories away from me or something like that. I think I am coming stronger than what I was and we are going to concentrate, like I said, to win some races and finish a lot of, almost all of them, I hope, and get -- and build the strength for next year.

Q. When Patrick Carpentier broke his arm recently he mentioned after coming back how much it set him back not only physically but mentally and it sort of, he felt it really hurt his season. How do you feel about also missing a number of races and trying to come back mentally? TONY KANAAN: I think, like I said, I am stronger than before.

Q. How about mentally? TONY KANAAN: Well, that is -- I think the accident was a bad thing that happened to me, but it was also a good thing. I had some time to think about what I was doing wrong and the way to prepare yourself mentally, the way you get strong, it is when you are having hard times. That is the way that I learned in my life and all my life, all through my career, it was never easy; I always had to fight for what I want and I learned it the hard way and again I am learning from the hard way, but I think always help me to get stronger. That is what is happening right now. I think I am stronger than before and hopefully I am going to show you guys how strong I am on Sunday.

Q. You talked about building a team and having it strong for next year. While you were absent Mr. Zanardi came over and visited with Mo. If Alex were to join the team next year how would you feel about being a part of a two-driver team? TONY KANAAN: It would be very good. I hope we could go to a two-car team next year. Alex is a good friend of mine and he is a very good driver. I think I need somebody good by my side to help me out and we make the team grow together. I really think Morris can put this deal together to make a two-car team, I don't know if it is going to be Zanardi or not but I just hope that happens.

Q. Some people had suggested what happened last year with Greg Moore, the unfortunate accident that everybody is still grieving over - that he drove with an injured wrist or whatever had happened to him there. Some people said that maybe that affected his ability to regain control of the car when he lost -- seemed to lose control or whatever happened there. Do you feel that you have full -- enough mobility and full mobility in your arm to control the car that -- the way that you need to in case something were to happen? TONY KANAAN: Well, first I think when it comes your day it is your day, doesn't matter what happened. But talking to Terry and Terry was the one who cleared Greg to go racing. Looking at the tapes, I looked at the data because I was really concerned too. Greg was my good friend and especially coming back on the speedway I felt okay, that is -- let's look at every possibility. The accident happened not because he didn't have anything -- has nothing to do with his wrist. He just spun and keep on throttle. I have full mobility. I have 100% of the movement back. The only thing that I don't have, my arm is still broken. I still have some crack in my bone, but I have full mobility, so I don't think it will be a problem. We are maybe hurrying up a week or something like that, that will be -- the bone right now, it is 80% healed. It is not 100% yet. That is the only thing that is keeping me to race, so I don't think it will be a problem. And if I thought in any moment in Terry or anybody thought I would, I would not even come back. So if that race was a road course I would never be back in the car. We are only coming back because it is an oval.

Q. You talk a lot about the go-kart. What is it about go-karts that is helpful in rehab and also keeping in fine tune between races? TONY KANAAN: Well, the go-kart, it is the best race car to drive even, you know, the reflexes have to be really quick; the steering, it is really heavy and so if you can drive a go-kart, basically you can drive any kind of race car. That is why we are doing the go-kart rehab. That is the only way I can drive the kind of race car right now. I cannot take my Indy car around all the time. My guys are really busy. That is the way that we found - the go-kart is one of the best workouts a driver can do to keep himself fit actually.

Q. Do you have shifter or another kind -- TONY KANAAN: Both. We do both. Terry has plenty of them and Bryan Herta just sent me one shifter so we have all kind of go-karts.

Q. Could you just talk about the end of that race last year and were you pretty much, I assume, settled at being second; what were some of the thoughts that went through your head when you saw what happened to Max? TONY KANAAN: Well, I was sad and I was happy at the same time. Max is a good friend of mine and I think he led most of the race and in the last corner -- well, that is the way the races are. I would kind of say, oh, God, I was sad it was him, it happened to him, but at the same time I said, hey, I have the chance to win. And to win, what it takes is you have to be in the right place at the right time. That is what I was. And it was wonderful. I didn't have too much time to think about because Montoya was growing up in my mirrors pretty fast. I just took it in the best way that I could and now it is one of my best memories right now.

Q. I think we have all neglected -- at least I don't know exactly where in your left arm it was broken and how many screws did the doctors put in? TONY KANAAN: I broke right in the middle of my forearm, I broke two bones and I have two plates and seven screws in each plate so it is 14 screws total.

        Q.  You are the mechanical man --
        TONY KANAAN:  A robocop.  I have a stronger arm than anybody.

Q. Did you watch the race in Canada live and if you were watching it live, were you steering, were you shifting along with the show? TONY KANAAN: Well, I was in a lot of pain actually. Terry didn't -- he made me watch the stunt and he put me back in the go-kart, 150 laps, I was pretty tired when I came back to watch the race there. I had no strength to do anything. I just was watching. Then I was hoping that my good friend Cristiano could win the race, it would be great for him. Actually I tell you what, I don't want to watch anymore races from home. It is just painful. I was ten times more nervous than when I am in the track because I am watching people and I am not used to that. I am used to being watched. Second, it looks like when somebody drive your car - nothing against to Bryan - but it is kind of like seeing your girlfriend going out with somebody else. T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Tony, for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in your continued rehab. We all look can look forward to your return this weekend at the Michigan 500, presented by Toyota, at Michigan Speedway. Good luck that weekend and for the rest of the FedEx Championship Series. Thanks again. TONY KANAAN: Thank you very much. T.E. McHALE: Thanks to everyone who took the time to be with us this afternoon. We will talk with you next week.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Patrick Carpentier , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Mo Nunn