Kanaan's two decades in Indy cars

Tony Kanaan has launched TK20 to celebrate his 20th year at the top of U.S. open-wheel racing, but he insists it’s not a farewell or retirement tour. Anne Proffit reports.

Brazilian Tony Kanaan came to the United States in 1995 speaking no English. But he did speak the language of competitive motorsports and became one of two drivers selected for Steve and Christine Horne’s new Marlboro Latin America, Tasman Motorsports Indy Lights team. The other driver? Helio Castroneves.

These two guys have had parallel careers and are still competitive in the tight confines of Verizon IndyCar Series competition, driving for rival superteams. In a fierce battle for the 1997 Indy Lights championship, the duo knew the winner would have the opportunity to move up to the CART series and drive Indy cars. It was Tony that vanquished Helio in the final race at California Speedway, earning the privilege to race with Tasman Motorsports the following year.

The rest, as they say, is great history. Since starting his Indy car career in 1998, Kanaan has amassed the 2004 IRL IndyCar championship, in which he finished every lap (3305) of every race, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 with KV Racing Technology in his 12th attempt, and 16 other Indy car wins.

TK has started an historic 267 consecutive Indy car races, dating back to Portland in 2001, as he’s worked with Tasman Motorsports, Forsythe Racing, Mo Nunn Racing, Andretti Green Racing (which turned into Andretti Autosport), KV Racing Technology and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanaan is entering his fourth season with Ganassi having replaced one of his best friends, Dario Franchitti, following the Scot’s enforced retirement.

Kanaan’s current relationship with CGR is one that both parties tried to consummate several times, most notably toward the end of 2008, when Kanaan instead elected to remain with Michael Andretti’s team for another two years. There’s a nice coincidence involved in him finally landing the ride, however, as he pointed out. It’s where some of his best friends in the sport have found success – Franchitti, current teammate Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi.

Now, in 2017, Tony Kanaan is celebrating his 20th consecutive year as an Indy car racer and he wants his racing family, a worldwide herd of friends and the multitude of fans that have followed his career to celebrate with him. And no, he’s not planning on calling time on his career at the close of this 17-race season.

With his TK20 program for the season, Kanaan intends to host some celebratory parties, get roasted throughout the season by his friends and comrades, offer TK20 swag and host digital content commemorating his exceptional career. This current season marks the return of Kanaan’s first major sponsor, 7-Eleven, which is an associate sponsor of Ganassi’s #10 car for several events throughout the season, as they celebrate a successful eight-season partnership, which ran from 2003-2010.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years,” Kanaan said. “I guess it’s true what they say about time flying when you’re having fun. Next to my Indianapolis 500 win and my IndyCar championship, reaching 20 seasons is definitely up there in my life of major career milestones.

“So is the 1997 Indy Lights title, because I beat Helio and knew I had the chance to move up. That was a highlight. I think it’s great that I’m able to celebrate TK20 this season with a series that I love so much and with people who have been instrumental in making my career possible.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi, who has certainly seen some of the best racers come through his doors and who enabled Kanaan’s overall win in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona (with teammates Dixon, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray) is excited to help the driver celebrate his 20th season in IndyCar.

“This is something we’ve really been looking forward to as a team,” said Ganassi. “It’s not a normal occurrence in the motorsports industry to see drivers not only stick around for 20 years but do it with the level of success and popularity that Tony has been able to achieve in IndyCar.”

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing
Article type Special feature