IRL: Tony Kanaan press conference, part I

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript September 23, 2003 Tony Kanaan Part 1 of 2 K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing conference call for this week, Tuesday, September 23. Today we will take a look at the IndyCar...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
September 23, 2003

Tony Kanaan

Part 1 of 2

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing conference call for this week, Tuesday, September 23. Today we will take a look at the IndyCar Series points chase with drivers Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish, Jr. Heading into the final race of the 2003 IndyCar Series schedule, just 19 points separate the top four drivers in the point standings, two of whom are joining us today.

Our first guest is Tony Kanaan. He drives the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. Tony finished third at California this past weekend and lies third in points with 460, just seven points out of first place. He has nine top-five finishes this season, which ties him, along with Helio Castroneves, for the most top-fives this year. Tony, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

T. Kanaan: Thank you, my pleasure.

K. Johnson: Throughout the season, you have had the goal of going for the race win, but if it is not there, going for the most points possible. In your position of trailing Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves by seven points in the championship, do you have the feeling that it is going to take a win at Texas to take the championship?

T. Kanaan: Definitely. I think only the win matters to us right now. We had a pretty consistent year, but I would say I needed a couple more wins during the season and for some reason that did not come. We could keep the consistency, but we would rather have a couple more wins than the consistency, but it was a tight championship for all of us if you take a look at it. I mean, I only won one race; the other guys won two and three races. So, definitely, the key for us was the consistency, and I am going for the win, I have no other choice.

K. Johnson: You mention consistency -- nine top-fives, but down the stretch you have just had two top-fives over the last five outings. Can you place a finger on that?

T. Kanaan: Well, we had one race that it was a two-stop strategy, and we got in the wrong side of it. Another race, my fellow friend, (Tomas) Scheckter, took me out. And, there were different circumstances that happened that I think we were being really unfortunate. But, that is what made the championship so exciting, because if you look, I mean, both Helio and Scott had problems, as well, during the whole year and now they are tied, and I am third. So, unfortunately, we were strong in all of the races that we did not finish in the top five, but something happened. We had the DNF in Michigan, as well, so that all counts. But, I cannot keep wondering if I had finished, because if Scott had finished, as well, or if Helio had finished, it would be a lot different. So, it is just a matter of luck and we will see what is going to happen.

K. Johnson: Looking at the final race at Texas, you know, almost to a man, the drivers have said it really did not matter where you qualify, because in the IndyCar Series you can race, you can pass, you can go to the front. But, with the style of racing we always see at Texas Motor Speedway, is there, or will there be a premium placed on qualifying at the front and being ahead of the pack?

T. Kanaan: Well, obviously, we are going to concentrate on that, but I think the most important thing to do is win the race. But, I think the way that I am approaching this weekend, I mean, the Texas weekend is going to be qualify in the front and be in the front and lead most laps and win the race. That is what I am going to do. It is not that I am going to drive any different, but you are going to see me, probably, more aggressive in the sense of worrying about qualifying, working in qualifying. Then, as a race car, I think we do have a good race car. We need to find a little bit, but we are working on that. We are going to go to Texas this week to test and, hopefully, we can find some.

Q: Let's talk about the Texas race and the fact that the race itself is always so close. What will be going through your mind and, mentally, how will you prepare for this race?

T. Kanaan: Well, mentally, we have to be very strong and try to not take the pressure as a disadvantage, because we are all going to be under pressure and use that as an advantage. The way that I approach the race is like it is going to be a close race. You are not going to see people driving away from people, so we have to be patient and smart to be able to position yourself for the win at the end. And, the key to doing that is to be calm and that is what I am going to try to do, and the way that I am going to approach the weekend is aggressive, but being smart and calm.

Q: The Penske Team has always been so strong. Now, all of a sudden Sam (Hornish Jr.) has stuck his nose in it. Talk about his resurgence in the last two races.

T. Kanaan: Sam has been strong all year. If you look at it, he made the August race when they did not have the good engine. He was struggling a little bit, but he was giving us a couple of races that he showed us what he was capable to do. I think, I would say, I was talking about the guy the other day, and I think it has been good that he won the last two races, because he has been taking points away from Scott and Helio and, obviously, to win this championship is going to be hard for him. But, we have to watch him, you know he is a good driver, he has a good team, and he has done a very good job. We just need to keep up with him and then work hard.

Q: So, in a sense he has worked almost like a blocker for you?

T. Kanaan: Yes. I mean, he is helping me out, I would say, because, you know, if he had not won those two races and Scott had won both, because he finished second on those two, then Scott would be leading the championship by a pretty good advantage. So, I would say, you know, we need to watch him because he can still win and so, I would say, I will try to work with him and be there in the front.

Q: I am wondering, is there talk within the Andretti Green building there off of Zionsville Road in Indianapolis about whether Bryan (Herta) and Danny (Wheldon) become teammates, in the sense that they can help you in this championship because you have the best opportunity to bring home the biggest prize for the organization in your first year?

T. Kanaan: Well, of course, you know, if they can do anything to help me, they will in the sense of track position and trying to help me. It is like saving fuel in drafting. But, I do not see them doing anything silly to make me win the championship. I mean, the battle is between three guys, four guys and that is the way I want it to be. But, you know, let's say I need a couple of positions and they are able to help me out and then try to get me there. I think we are going to try to work together. I mean, that is what Ganassi is going to do and that is what Penske is going to do. That is an advantage that we can have. But, the way that we are going to approach the weekend is we are all going to go for the win, all the three of us and the team. You know, obviously, the attention is on me right now, but I would say we are going to work together and see. It is so hard to predict what is going to happen in a race, especially in IRL, especially in Texas. So we can make any plans we want, but until we get down to the last lap, you do not know. So, it is really hard to talk about it, but I am pretty sure that if they can do anything to help me in a good way, they will.

Q: Tony, this is the first year for the organization. You guys are all working together for the first time. What would it say if Andretti Green were to win the IRL Championship and Dan Wheldon won the Rookie of the Year award?

T. Kanaan: It would be a perfect year, isn't it? And, we were meeting just before the '500'. So, I would say Danny has a pretty good chance to win the Rookie, and that is the goal. The goal is to go there to win the championship and make Dan Wheldon win the Rookie of the Year. Obviously, when I joined this team, we knew the capability, but we did not know how well we could do in the first year. Everybody is getting used to each other. You know, the team was not a new team, but it was a new name, new owner and all of the drivers are basically new, because Dario (Franchitti) left, unfortunately, for his accident and then we had three different drivers that never worked together before, and I think we have a pretty good chemistry between us. You know, we are going to try to do it.

Q: Just a last thing, Tony. I know, just from watching you guys do the photo op with the trophy the other day at Fontana, there seems to be, the five of you guys, there seems to be some kind of feelings there, or respect. I mean, how would you describe that? How was your relationship? I know you and Helio were close, but how has your relationship with the other guys changed or evolved or, hopefully, got better as a result of this intense competition you guys have had?

T. Kanaan: Well, I think the competition needs to be healthy. I would never take an unhealthy competition. I would never let that happen, because I do not think it is worth it. We are there for one thing, the best guy is going to win. Okay, if he has the best equipment or whatever, he is in a better team, or he is in a better day, or he is a better driver, but the bottom line is the five of us that are there are very good drivers. We work hard all year, that is why we put ourselves in that position. You know, on the racetrack we play clean and we respect each other because we know everybody's capability. Any single one of us is capable to win this Championship. So, the respect is mutual. Obviously, between myself, Helio and Gil (de Ferran), we are a lot closer, so we have fun, we hang out together out of the racetrack. You know, every weekend off we have we go out on the boat, we make a barbeque, so it is a different relationship that not a lot of people have, and I appreciate that. I made good friends during this year's racing, and the racing is my life. I live and I smell and I eat tires and fuel everyday. So, if it is my life, you cannot just be by yourself in life, you have to have friends even if you are racing against them, even if motor racing is a very selfish sport and that is the way I approach it and I have good friends there and, obviously, I want to win this championship. But, you know, in a good way, being in a healthy relationship.

Q: Actually, I was going to ask, I will reverse the order of my questions. Are you planning to go out and see the Grand Prix this weekend?

T. Kanaan: Probably on Friday. I am testing Thursday in Texas, so on Friday I will probably be there. Saturday and Sunday, I might go to the beach. You know, the weather is so good here, but I will be watching on TV.

Q: And I wanted to ask you, what would it mean, you say how much racing is your life, how much would it mean to you to win the championship? How much have you been thinking about it now that it is closer to a possibility?

T. Kanaan: You try not to think about it, but, obviously, it is going to be a dream come true because, when I was little, I always wanted to do succeed and win championships. Through my career, thank God, I had a lot of success. I won a lot of championships in go-karts and in the single-seaters, too. So, now that I got to the top, that is the ultimately goal and that is what I want to do, that is what I worked all my life. So, the way I approach it is I take one day at a time, and I don't know what I am going to do if I win this championship. I think I want it to be a surprise. I mean, I don't know my reaction, I don't know if I am going to cry, if I am going to laugh, if I am going to jump. You know, people ask me what about if you win, what your victory celebration is going to be? I have no idea, but it is going to mean a lot to me, especially for Honda that has been with me for a long time and, you know, Michael, that put all the credit. I had a tough year last year, results-wise, and then having somebody to still believe in you. It is pretty hard these days, because the easiest thing to do is to dump the driver and get somebody else. So, I do not know, we maybe will throw a party in Miami and invite you guys, too.

Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Sam Hornis