Q&A: Tony Kanaan on Personal Success and IndyCar’s Evolution – Autoweek

Posted: April 24, 2020 at 12:50 pm


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Tony Kanaan has pretty much seen and done it all when it comes to IndyCar.

The Brazilian driver has been a fixture in the sport for 23 years and was hopeful to remain full time and continue his streak of 317 races (most all-time) going. However, economic circumstances didnt come together to make that a possibility, and instead he will run a partial schedule in 2020 at the five ovalsGateway, Indianapolis, Iowa, Richmond and Texasin the No. 14 Chevrolet for legendary team owner AJ Foyt.

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At 45 years young, Kanaan has enjoyed a stellar career that many would trade for in a minute.

In 2004, he scored three wins, 11 podiums and two poles to capture his only IndyCar championship. In the process he became the first driver to complete every lap in a season (3,305 laps889 of which he led).

Additionally, a massive weight was lifted off his shoulders after he finally claimed victory in the 2013 edition of the Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan has written a fairy tale career for himself, but he keeps his eyes forward waiting for the next green flag to wave. In the meantime, he decided to share some thoughts with Autoweek about his career, the evolution of IndyCar and more.

Autoweek: What have you been doing to keep busy during this quarantine period?

Tony Kanaan: Well, we have four kids, so we're plenty busy. There's not a day in this house from seven o'clock in the morning until it's bedtime that we're not busy. I love working out, so I train a lot. We have our home gym, which I'm extremely fortunate to have. I'm concentrating on some specific workouts to keep fit to be able to drive the race car, but also I'm training for an Ironman triathlon that I'm going to do in October. I'm training four to six hours a day between the weights and the bike and the runs. It's about being busy. So, I have a pretty busy schedule from the moment I wake up to bedtime. Now, obviously including the iRacing and stuff that I never had done in my life until a few weeks ago, I've been trying to learn as much as I can because my competitive side doesn't let me just say, 'Ah, relax. This is just for fun. This is not serious.' But, I get carried away and try to be competitive.

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AW: Youre one of the few I can ask this to, so what is more challenging: Winning an IndyCar championship or the Indianapolis 500?

TK: They're different, right? A championship, you have to be consistent through the entire year. You have to do your job. So, I would say the 500 and not because of the magnitude of the race, but it's one race. You have that day to get everything right. Right? If you don't get it right, you've got to wait another year. In the championship, you can have a bad race or two and then you can recover from that later on. To me, I would say the 500.

AW: You came into Indy car racing with the likes of Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti, among others. How does this new generation of driversOliver Askew, Colton Herta, Patricio OWard, Felix Rosenqvist, etc.compare to when you came into the sport roughly 20-plus years ago?

TK: Every generation is different, man. In my opinion, we keep improving. When I came in it was Al Unser Jr., (Alex) Zanardi, Jimmy (Vasser)those guys were on the way outthen, it was Dixon and I. They're just different. I mean, it's hard to compare generations, in my opinion, especially when you talk about, look at me, I've been around for 23 years, things have changed so much since then between cars and everything else. So to me, it's hard to judge, 'Oh, we're better. They were better.' It's just different. I think the kids have the same fire we all did, which is a good thing. In a way, they're more tech savvy, I would say. These kids text and they are up to speed on things that you go, 'What are you talking about?' When I started, we already had digital dashes but we had like three buttons in a steering wheel. Now, we have like 20, so it takes us older guys a little longer to get used to, when the kids they just come in and go, 'That's easy.' I'm like, 'Whoa, OK.'

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AW: On that end, its pretty impressive to see how technical Indy Lights has become as a training ground, delivering IndyCar-ready drivers like Askew, Herta, OWard and Rinus VeeKay. How different is that compared to your days there in 1996?

TK: Yeah, but I have to say back then, no disrespect to Indy Lights, our championships were tougher. When I talk about, remember Dixon and I, it was just different times, right? You talk about a different economy. I mean, it was really strong. So I think these guys, it emphasized even more the kids because they are extremely competitive in IndyCar coming from a level of an Indy Lights championship that is not up to the level that we raced. Again, no disrespect to the championship right now, but that's what we're trying to build. We're still trying to build that.

AW: The technology, grid size (28 drivers entered races in 1996 versus 13 in 2019) and depth of talent was closer to IndyCar level back then than it is now, is that what you're saying?

TK: Correct. Again, I'm not trying to sound like I'm disrespecting them, but that's just the reality.

AW: Youve been around a minute and seen the transition of Indy car racing from the CART erapost-splitto the reunification through to what we have today. If there is one thing missing in the current IndyCar product to take it to the next level, what might that be?

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TK: Well, it's hard. When you think about how much money we used to spend, we had 1,000 horsepower, but the engines would last a race and you'd have to rebuild them. So it's easy for me to sit here and say, 'Well, we need more horsepower.' We used to change chassis every year or every two. It's insane. Times have changed. I think there's a lot of room for improvement, but you got to be careful when you say that because when you try to make it where you add tech and add power and add this and that, then you become Formula 1. Then you need a $100 million budget that people don't have. So I don't think we're missing, I just think we are adapting to times. Can an Indy car go 250 mph? 100%, tomorrow if you want to. The problem is how do you want to approach this; do we want to grow the series or do we want to have nobody racing because nobody has the money that can afford to go racing? So to me, I don't think we need to change anything. I think we need to be smart and keep the way we're doing, slowly improving. I can say, 'Yeah, you know what, we need a 1,000-horsepower (car). We need bigger cars, need to do this.' But then, what's the cost of that? We're going to increase the cost $6 million from one year to the other, then you can't do it because teams won't survive. These are different times, so I think it's not what we need to change, it's how smart are we going to be to adapt and still keep the fans entertained. Doing 240 mph to 260 mph, in my opinion, when you see in the grandstands, it's just a number. You can't really say, 'Oh my God, this is much quicker.' You know what I mean? I also don't see it saying that we're in the point that we're so competitive level-wise, the product is good that we're going to gather more fans because we add those kinds of things. Technically, we're safe, we're fast, we're competitive. It's not about that. It's about how can we gather the new fans to be more engaged to grow the series like that because this is the only way you do it. You grow the series, you'll become popular, sponsors will come, fans will attend the races and that's it. That's how the sport survives.

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AW: There seems to be a growing sentiment from drivers that have come over to America after racing in Formula 1 or other European categories and have hailed IndyCar a proper drivers championship.

TK: Which is great because when you think about it, how many talented drivers that we probably know, like I know a handful of people, we're not going to sit here and name names that were better than other people that actually had won championships and took credit for it because they were on better teams. I understand that, you're lucky. It's like everything in life. You know, I know for a fact that there are plenty of worse writers than you and they probably have better jobs. This is just the way it is. Unfortunately, that's life. But, IndyCar kind of levels that a little bit, which is great because when you come race here, if you have talent you're going to be able to succeed. Then, at least you're going to be somebody. It's not like if you go to Formula 1 where if you don't race with the top teams, sorry, man, you're done.

AW: Lastly, if TK were the CEO of IndyCar for a day, what track would he add to the current schedule?

TK: I would add another oval. I think we went away from some of them. I need to think about, not as Tony Kanaan, but as an IndyCar CEO. So, I would have to do a deep research where we could draw a good massive group of fans to be able to attend the race. Can I give you like three options? Because I'm saying as a CEO I had to like, you know, do my studies.

AW: Sure, lets roll with it.

TK: I would go Michigan, Milwaukee or Kentucky. OK, I would just add another oval race to the schedule. Everything else, to me, is there. IndyCar is being run by Mark Miles and now Roger (Penske); I think it's the best group of executives IndyCar has had in a few decades, in my opinion.

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Q&A: Tony Kanaan on Personal Success and IndyCar's Evolution - Autoweek

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April 24th, 2020 at 12:50 pm

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