IRL: Tony Kanaan press conference, part I

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript June 3, 2003 Tony Kanaan Part 1 of 3 K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing Teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 3rd. Today we will visit with current IRL IndyCar Series...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
June 3, 2003
Tony Kanaan

Part 1 of 3

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing Teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 3rd. Today we will visit with current IRL IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan. Tony drives the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. And thus far in 2003 he has recorded one victory at the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway as well as posting two MBNA Pole qualifying performances. Heading into this weekend's Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Tony has a 14-point lead over second-place Helio Castroneves in the IndyCar Series' driver point standings. Tony, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Kanaan: Thank you. It is a pleasure.

K. Johnson: To start with Tony, you are off to just a tremendous start this season. You have one victory and three top-five finishes over the first four events of the year. Things look to have really fallen in place for you over at Andretti Green Racing.

Kanaan: Oh, yes. I mean, I cannot complain. I think we started off in the right place, and the team is working really well together. We had our ups, and obviously already did have our downs after the Japan race. But, overall, we are working hard, and it is a tough championship to be leading right now and a lot of very competitive race car drivers and teams, so hopefully we can keep working and making points to be able to do what we want, which is win the championship at the end of the year. But it is too early today, so we need to keep working.

K. Johnson: Now, not only have you ran well in the races, but your qualifying efforts have just been outstanding. You started on the front row in each of the four events this season. Now, the IndyCar Series doesn't pay points for starting positions, but it really shows that your program has come together when both the racing and the qualifying efforts are so strong.

Kanaan: Well, definitely. I think we are being, I don't know if I can call it lucky, but capable of putting the car in the front row every race we race so far. And I would like to keep this tradition. I think it is good, always, when you start in the front, but you have to finish in the front. I am happy. I think the car is working good. Honda is giving us all the power they can give to us right now. As you guys know, they started a little later in the season than the Toyotas and the Chevys. So we are working really hard, and we will see what is going to happen.

K. Johnson: Now, keeping the focus on the Andretti Green Racing team, thus far you have had Michael Andretti as not only an owner but also a counterpart in the car as a driver. Starting this week at Texas, Michael is strictly on the other side of the pit wall. How does that affect the way you go about your business?

Kanaan: Well, I think having Michael as a teammate was a big help. He was driving the car and feeling the same things I was feeling. And, as an owner, it has been plus because he has been a race car driver. He understands what is going on with the team and what is going on with the driver. So he wouldn't be the type of team owner that would blame the driver every time, because he knows what it takes and he knows what we are going through. So it is a big plus having him as an owner. But like I said, he retired, and he is not in the car anymore. I think it is going to be a little different for me because I used to talk to him a lot about setup, and we would discuss and make decisions together. But on the other hand, he will be around and watching and probably giving his feedback from outside. And sometimes when you are from the outside, you have a better idea of what is going on. So we will see. Like I said, the first four races I had him as a teammate, so now we will have this first race, the Texas race, I will have him as a full-time owner. We will see if that is going to change anything, or not. He is a great guy. I respect him a lot and he is the guy that gave me the opportunity to be where I am right now and I am just trying to do my job.

K. Johnson: Now this weekend we go to Texas Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Series cars first time on a really banked track and also our first night race of the season. Have you had any experience with night racing and what are your thoughts about that?

Kanaan: I raced 24-hours before, but I never raced this type of car at night. So, talking to some people, they said it is not a big difference. I spoke to Sam and (inaudible) about it they said it is just another race. So we will see. I mean, I am really excited to go over there and see what is going to happen.

Q: Tony, if we could go back a week to the Richmond test, I want to get your thoughts on that crash you had with Helio, just maybe a play-by-play of what happened there.

Kanaan: Basically, when we both came out of the pits together on full tanks, we had 20 minutes to go to the end of the session, and we were doing a long run. Helio was coming behind me, and he was much quicker in that first three laps, and I gave him the line, the inside line, and I went a little higher and went in the marbles a little bit, and I slowed down in the middle of the corner. By the time I left the corner, I was leaving the corner, I was much slower than him, and he was coming off the turn. And, basically, what he told me, I was full-throttle already at the time, and he had his hands and when you turn the steering in those cars you sit so low that sometimes you have a blind spot when you are turning. And he says he caught me at that blind spot and never saw my car coming that quick and hit my left rear tire with his right front and he took off. Crash. I think it was a shame. It was just a wrong timing, basically, nobody's fault. I didn't check the throttle. He did not check the throttle. It was just the timing was just perfect for an accident, and we didn't want that to happen. It was really scary moment for both of us, especially. We come a long ways together, and we flew home together that night in the same plane and had a chance to talk about it. But we cannot blame anybody. I think it was just an accident.

Q: Is there any concern? You said it was the matter of perfect timing. Is there any concern that you could have that sort of timing happen during a race?

Kanaan: Oh, I mean you can have an accident at any time. I don't know. You can have it, but I thin, hopefully, it won't happen.

Q: Were you watching as his car went upside down? Was that all happening in front of you?

Kanaan: Yes. Well, when he hit my suspension, I spun. So I saw the whole thing and I was really scared. I was trying to get out of the car to actually help him because, obviously, I was the guy that was closest to him. So I could there really quick. Finally, I got there and helped him out of the car and so everybody else came right after. The car was on fire. I was really worried about him.

Q: You had a lot of success this year, and a lot of drivers have used American open-wheel racing as a stepping-stone to other kinds of racing. I don't want to put you on the spot any more than necessary, but are you satisfied with American open-wheel racing as being a career in itself and not just a stepping-stone to somewhere else?

Kanaan: Well, sure. I think I always was very clear with my intentions. When I came here, I had no intentions to leave, and I still don't. Obviously, as a race car driver, you are always looking for the best, and I think I am in the best team right now and one of the best series with the best drivers out there. So I am very happy where I wanted to be. So you can ask me if I would look for racing Formula One. To go back to Formula One from Europe right now, no, and obviously you never know what is going to happen in the future. But if I can stay here for the rest of my career, I will be very happy. America is being great to me. The people are great. I have been racing for teams that always gave me the car to win. And right now, I really found myself with Andretti Green Racing, and you never know how long that is going to last. But it feels so good right now that we hope that it will last forever. So as long as Tony Kanaan wants to drive and if I have a car to drive in America, I will stay in America.

Q: And oval racing has an entirely different discipline, doesn't it? And it is one that can be enjoyed as much as the other form?

Kanaan: Not really. I think oval racing is really exciting, and it is really difficult, especially for me coming from a road course-type of career. It is a big challenge, and I am learning every day I am at the track, and obviously you have to have a very good car. I enjoy racing on road courses, and I enjoy racing the ovals. That was a choice that I made last year, and I am fully committed. One day, maybe we go back to road courses, but right now it is really challenging, and I think some of the places are a lot more difficult than some of the road courses we have, because you have to have the car and you have to drive the car.

Q: From the outside, it looks like you need a lot more discipline to get the tenth of seconds. You only have four corners and you cannot muscle the car like you can at a road course. Is that what is really happening in the driver seat? Is that what is on your mind?

Kanaan: Yes. I mean, you have only, like you said, sometimes four corners. So there is not much you can improve anymore. And to gain that extra tenth that can put you from 15th to first, it is really tough. And in the road course, you have more chances and you can drive and say, "OK, I will make up the difference in that corner, or in that particular corner I know I am better." In the ovals, if you don't have the car, you cannot make miracles. You make the difference sometimes in short ovals that you can drive a little bit sideways, so the guy that is more capable probably would stand out more. But it is very technical and very challenging. You need, really, to think about it and sometimes your talent, it goes beyond your talent. You have to really choose the right setup for your car besides you having the talent. So it is not just: 'OK, I am talented. I am going to win.' No. 'I am talented but I need the knowledge to make my car, as well, so I can use both of them to make a winning car.'

Q: Great. I have some other questions. I will get back in line.

Q: Tony, looking at the Andretti Green team, I don't know if it surprising but there is something within that team that makes it feel as though it has been around a long time. Now I know Team Green was around, but this whole mix that has come together seems to have come together quickly. Talk about that.

Kanaan: Well, I think when Michael (Andretti) and Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree) got together and bought the team from Barry(Green), those are people that they have been together forever. And Barry was there since '96, I think, or '97. I am not sure. And Michael was there afterward, so the big thing was me coming into the team. But I have been good friends with Dario (Franchitti). I mean, Dario is one of my best friends for a long time, and Michael was the person that I knew from the racetrack, and we always respected each other, and we had a good relationship. We weren't friends, but had a lot of respect from each other, and we talk. We have some fun a couple times, and he just thought it would be great. Like you said, there is no explanation for it. It is just people with good chemistry and people who really wanted to do well and work together for one goal, which is make the team successful and then not being jealousy and not having complaints about drivers like: 'Wow, he has this. He has that.' We all know that we are good drivers, and we are capable of winning. So I am sure about my skills, so is Dario, so is Michael, so is Dan (Wheldon) now. And we are not worried about getting beat from your teammate. We worry about making those cars winning cars. And I think that is the key, because you see, some of the teammates, when you go to a team you are a teammate to the first guy you wanted to beat. And over there that is not the case. I want to win races, so does Dario and so does all the two guys. But, besides that we want the team to succeed, and that is why we came along so well and so quickly.

Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Tony Kanaan