IRL: MIS - Tony Kanaan spotlight

TONY KANAAN TO USE MORE THAN TECHNIQUE DURING FIRESTONE INDY 400 AT MIS BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 19, 2006) -- Most drivers in the IRL IndyCar® Series preach the importance of handling and car care over the course of long races such as the ...

TONY KANAAN TO USE MORE THAN TECHNIQUE DURING FIRESTONE INDY 400 AT MIS

BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 19, 2006) -- Most drivers in the IRL IndyCar® Series preach the importance of handling and car care over the course of long races such as the Firestone Indy 400. Tony Kanaan, however, has something else up his sleeve, and since he's won at MIS in the past, it's hard to argue with him.

"I stayed here last night on my bus, my motorhome, trying to be nice to the track and see if she can give me my first win of this year," said the driver of the No. 11 7-Eleven Honda for Andretti Green Racing who was testing at MIS on Wednesday. "You've got to respect it, that's all I know about it. I was driving around the track just telling her to be nice to me."

Kanaan's vow of respect worked in 1999 when he captured his first and only MIS victory in a 500-mile open-wheel race by edging Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Tracy in the second closest open-wheel finish in MIS history. Since then, however, Kanaan has failed to take a checkered flag at Michigan. His three starts following his first career victory resulted in finishes of 24th, 21st, and 16th, respectively, despite starting on the pole in 2004, he finished second to Buddy Rice.

"In '99, (Max) Papis ran out of fuel and I won the race," said Kanaan. "Then, we've been on the pole here and I've been fighting for wins since I came to Michigan so it's a track that I really like. I feel good about the place and have good cars and take good care of the equipment."

As his Andretti Green Racing team struggles in 2006, Kanaan continues to shake off the criticism that his squad doesn't have an edge anymore. The 31-year-old Brazilian has a point. Despite a goose egg in the win column, AGR drivers have three drivers in the top eight positions in the point standings, led by Kanaan in sixth, and Kanaan himself has four top-five finishes in nine starts this season.

"People look at it like, 'What's wrong?' I think when we did so well, when we won 10, 11 races every year, that when you don't win, people go, 'What's wrong?' So there's nothing's wrong," said Kanaan. "I think people step up their games and we kind of expected that that good moment was going to end one day. In the Indy Racing League, it's so competitive that we're not going to dominate for so long. We thought after the first year that it was going to be harder and then we did it again but now the time has come and we're struggling a little bit. If you look at it, we had three cars on the finish line that could have won Indianapolis. We had four cars in the top six at Richmond so we're struggling because we haven't won a race, but it's not like 'What's wrong? You guys are dead last.'" We're definitely working and obviously, the engine situation did hurt us a little bit because the other teams had to find other ways to pick up the speed. Once we had the advantage we didn't have to look at other things that they probably did, but that's motor racing and that's the way it's been forever. It's good for the fans that you don't have one single team dominating the whole time. I'm not enjoying it a lot; we'd love to be at the top of the game the whole time but we'll be back for sure. I think people realize that we're too strong. We'll just have to keep working and keep digging."

Kanaan maintains that the attitude in the Andretti Green shop couldn't be better. With young gun Marco Andretti along for the ride in 2006 and veterans Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta still doing well, the team continues to be close.

"Everyone is in a good mood and working very hard, and I think that's what shows when a team is really strong," Kanaan said. "If you look at our team, we have the same attitude as we had the last two years when we won the championship, which I would say is the right attitude. We're a lot closer, and we're growing together from the difficult times. For sure, after the storm goes, we're going to be a lot better as a team."

Though fellow South American Juan Pablo Montoya is jumping to NASCAR and IndyCar Series rival Danica Patrick is rumored to be talking with the stock car giant, Kanaan plans to stick with the open-wheeled machines, at least for the near future.

"Right now, my focus is on open-wheel racing and that's what I've been doing forever and I would like to see Michigan the way like we had the Michigan 500 back in the days when you couldn't get in and out of the race track because of the traffic and you could see the grandstands completely full. That's my mission now. If I can succeed by doing that, my dreams will definitely be fulfilled," said Kanaan.

In addition to his respect of the track which he has personified, Kanaan knows that there are other pieces to the victory puzzle. Driving 400 miles, he says, is much more difficult when compared to races of smaller durations.

"I think (Michigan's) a long race always. Here, it's such a long race that you've got to take care of your equipment. It's such a fast track that you've got to be careful because you run full throttle the whole time. It's very hard on the engine and on the equipment, so it's just trying to take care of your car as much as you can during the race."

Car care. Respect for the track. Victory experience. When all is said and done, it might just add up to a victory for Tony Kanaan at MIS.

Tickets for the July 30 Firestone Indy 400 are currently on sale at MIS's official website, www.MISpeedway.com, or by calling the MIS ticket hotline at 1-800-354-1010. Tickets to all other events during the 2006 MIS season delivered by Domino's Pizza, which include the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series GFS Marketplace 400 on August 20, the NASCAR Busch Series Carfax 250 on August 19, and the ARCA RE/MAX Series Hantz Group 200 on August 18, are also now available.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya