IRL: Kanaan aims for repeat

It's been a long off-season for the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion, Tony Kanaan. Feted throughout the world for his achievement in taking the IRL title, Kanaan's accomplishments over last season's 16 races were a bit on the ...

It's been a long off-season for the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion, Tony Kanaan. Feted throughout the world for his achievement in taking the IRL title, Kanaan's accomplishments over last season's 16 races were a bit on the extraordinary side.

Completing every single one of 3305 laps of competition, the driver of Andretti Green Racing's #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone racer finished within the top five 15 straight times - Kanaan was eighth in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway - led 889 laps, won nearly $3 million and amassed a total of 618 points en route to winning three races and securing two MBNA pole positions.

Those are records even Kanaan agrees will be difficult to match in 2005, when there are 17 events on the docket including three road/street circuits. Of course the Brazilian came from a road racing background and has an initial advantage over the drivers entered in IndyCar Series competition whose resumes exclude right turns as well as left.

Kanaan has been "busier than I've ever been on the off-season. I've done a lot of media tours and raced in France (Race of Champions) and Brazil," where he took his fifth title in the famous 500 Milhas Granja Viana kart race that attracts drivers from all over the racing universe.

"I'm going to try and win [the IRL title] again this year but it will be very difficult, especially to set records like I did last year." Kanaan's second American title - he was the Dayton Indy Lights champion in 1997 - "changed my lifestyle a little bit. We accomplished such a good thing in 2004 that I don't have as much time at home. I really have to watch my time now because the requests still come in every week," he explained.

The catalyst of Andretti Green Racing's great camaraderie, Tony Kanaan will do whatever he can to see his team succeed again in 2005. "We will work together but I don't expect to match what we did. I think we can be championship contenders within the Andretti Green team," Kanaan declared.

Teammate Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda) finished second in the point chase last year with three wins of his own; Dario Franchitti's first full season in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda yielded two wins and sixth in points; Bryan Herta's #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda held ninth at the close of all 16 races.

Kanaan admitted he feels "more comfortable driving around my teammates than others because of the respect between us, but when you get right down to it, we're racing against 21 other guys and we're all there to win the race. If I'm in position to help my Andretti Green teammates, I'll do it."

Of course the 21 "other guys" Kanaan will be racing against in 2005 includes one woman, Danica Patrick who races for Rahal Letterman Racing as a rookie this year. A graduate of the Toyota Atlantic Championship, Patrick is "very competitive," according to Kanaan. "She knows what she's doing and she's very talented. I can't tell she's a woman once she puts her helmet on," he stated.

While Kanaan engaged in running marathons and even taking part in a triathlon last year, his busy schedule doesn't make that possible quite yet. "My life has been a marathon," he exclaimed. "I've been training for the racing season really hard but maybe, in the middle of the year I could do a couple of marathons or half-marathons. Or afterwards?"

Pre-season testing has yielded good results for him and for his AGR teammates. Kanaan believes engine maker Honda "has made improvements from last year and I'm confident we've got a good engine for the coming year. But others have been working to catch up with us," Tony countered, "and we won't discount them. They all keep working to beat us."

Like many who came up through road racing, "I can't wait for the road races. I did a car race in Brazil last month," Kanaan explained, "and finished second in that 1000-mile event. We've done a couple of road racing tests and I feel ready. I can't wait," he reiterated.

"I might be more confident [at the first street circuit event in April at St. Petersburg, FL] than those who haven't done it before, but good drivers are good drivers and, while I might have an advantage in the beginning, I feel we'll all be as competitive as we are on ovals once everybody gets into it," is the mantra according to Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan and the 21 drivers who will be chasing him in this year's tenth anniversary Indy Racing League IndyCar Series' 17 races still have to wait a bit over a week to turn wheels in anger for the first time in 2005.

All the practice and pre-season testing scores go out the window when they take the green flags on Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5-mile oval to start the Toyota Indy 300 on March 6th. And that's the moment Kanaan - and those who spent 2004 chasing him - have been waiting for.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam , Danica Patrick