After seeing his friend and fellow countryman Helio Castroneves win his fourth Indy 500 last year, Tony Kanaan is thirsty for his second glass of milk.
Tony Kanaan has experienced it all at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
His triumphant victory in 2013 was obviously the highlight but there were many instances of heartbreak along the way. After more than a decade of trying to immortalize himself in the history books, Kanaan finally realized his dream in one of the most popular wins at the legendary speedway.
Indianapolis is home for Kanaan and his family. His “other” family consists of the hundreds of thousands of people that descend upon 16th Street every May. For more than a century, drivers have been showcasing their bravery and talent, risking it all to win at the Roman Colosseum of racing. Nearly 400,000 fans, 33 drivers, and one trophy complete the scene, like a Van Gogh painting that has come to life.
Approaching the speedway, an indescribable feeling overwhelms you on that special day in May. The sun glistens over the pagoda, and you feel the brisk morning air in the shadows of the grandstands. Generations of people have experienced the cultural touchstone known as Race Day in Indianapolis. As a competitor, Kanaan has experienced a variety of emotions over the last two decades.
The nostalgia you feel as you enter the Speedway. The smell of the tires, the sound of the engines, and the taste of victory. It truly is an assault on your senses. The radio broadcast paints the picture of the 33 spirited souls that put everything on the line for 200 laps. There is danger for all, and glory for just one.
The race has its icons, kings, and legends, but not a single person is bigger than the event itself. Kanaan is the first to admit that, and is honored to have his likeness included on the Borg Warner Trophy. In fact, the Brazilian is quick to direct the credit to the team.
Kanaan has driven in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for five different teams. His 20 career starts at Indy are second only to fellow countrymen Helio Castroneves, among active drivers. This will be TK’s sixth start with Ganassi. His first two didn’t go the way they had planned, but he finished 4th in 2016, 5th in 2017, and earned another top ten finish for the team last year.
The team has expanded to run five cars this year, and Kanaan is oozing with confidence. “The cars are prepped the same. Chip Ganassi wouldn’t field me a car just because he wanted to do me a favor. The car is the same prep as the other ones. As a team we’ve been working really hard. We’re sharing a bunch of things. There is no doubt that we’ll do everything we can to win this race.”
There is good reason for Kanaan’s optimism. Ganassi has been the most dominant team this month, by a wide margin. They earned their 7th Indy 500 pole on Sunday with Scott Dixon’s record-breaking run, and Alex Palou starts next to him on the front row. Four of their cars are starting in the first two rows on Sunday.
After splitting the No. 48 car with Jimmie Johnson last year, Kanaan is excited to be able to share the track with his “rookie” teammate. “Tony has been a huge part of this deal happening for me,” Johnson said. “The split season, then his willingness to allow me to race the ovals this year. He’s been a friend in so many ways. I know the general public hasn’t been able to see a lot of that, but I’m very thankful for our friendship, his understanding, and certainly look forward to racing hard with him.”
Pairing up with engineer Andy Brown is another exciting aspect of this month for TK. “It’s awesome. When they told me it was going to be Andy, obviously I’ve known Andy for three decades. Never had worked with him, got beat by him plenty of times. I remember obviously I got closer to Andy when Dan (Wheldon) worked with him and they won this race. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a pleasure. He is an awesome dude. I am enjoying it a lot.” The duo will work from the 6th starting position on Sunday.
Kanaan has led 14 different Indy 500 races for a total of 346 laps, which ranks second among active drivers behind his teammate Scott Dixon. He has completed more than 3,500 laps in this event. He started on pole in 2005 when his good friend Dan Wheldon earned his first Indy 500 victory. His talent is undeniable, and his support unwavering.
Kanaan has been focused all month long. “Chip gave us the opportunity to be here with the best cars in the field. We have one goal: go win the race on Sunday. That’s what we’re here for.” He is eagerly awaiting that special morning. “I can’t wait. You can feel the buzz in the city, as well, living here the past four years. It’s back to normal, which is awesome.”
Why has Kanaan been one of the most popular drivers in the history of this great event? The eight top-five finishes at Indy don’t necessarily paint the whole picture. His incredible moves at the drop of the green flag are breathtaking. He certainly knows his way around the 2.5-mile circuit, but he also is very knowledgeable about the history. He has a great respect for this place, which fans appreciate.
Chip Ganassi is tired of hearing about Roger Penske’s 18 Indy 500 wins. The last driver to take Ganassi to victory lane here was Dario Franchitti, one decade ago. Kanaan hopes to fix that on Sunday, in his quest for another bottle of milk.