An interview with Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today. We have Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.
It hasn't been 24 hours since you were in this room. Has it sunk in yet? Have you been able to realize what's happened in the past 24 hours?
TONY KANAAN: This morning probably, yes. I was afraid to go to bed yesterday and wake up this morning and it would be race day again.
I think slowly it's getting in. I haven't had much sleep yet, but I guess that's the price when you win such a big race.
THE MODERATOR: You're the only eligible contender for the Triple Crown sweep. Have you thought about that yet?
TONY KANAAN: I haven't had time to eat, so I'm not thinking about that yet. For sure, that's a good position to be in.
It's going to be a tough task to win those three races, so I think I'm okay with it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. When you came over from Brazil, I think your first stop in open-wheel racing was in Europe. At what time did you realize it was not the way to go to Formula One and instead going to IndyCar? Maybe in the future, is it possible to see you in different kinds of racing, endurance or maybe NASCAR?
TONY KANAAN: The first question, obviously when I was in Europe, obviously the objective was to go to Formula One. When I realized it was going to be an extremely hard road, I decided I wanted to be a racecar driver. At that point I need to make a living. Whatever series was going to pay me to race so I could have something to eat, I was going to take it.
The opportunity came back in '96 to do an Indy Lights with a very good winning team. So that was the decision that was very easy. I came here to race and I'm glad I did. I don't regret anything for taking a decision for that.
As far as for the future, after this race we can still prove that the older guys can still win. Dario did it last year. I did it this year. I'm never not considering anything else, but I will drive anything that has four wheels and a steering wheel. But right now I would like to be here for a few more years before I go do something else.
Q. Moving forward, can you see the Indy 500 victory as being kind of a springboard to a run at a championship? Sets the tone for the rest of the races that follow.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's such a big race. I strongly believe that I'm feeling it already. It boost up your confidence a lot. It boost up your team's confidence a lot. That's definitely a big boost for you to go to the other races. Takes a big weight off of your back. When you relax like that, the chances are you do extremely well for the rest of the season.
I'm not a big fan of facts. I was never a big fan of facts. Seems like people love to talk about the guy that wins here wins the championship. The guy that never won here is never going to win. I was going to be somebody that probably never won this thing.
It's hard to say. I don't think it will set the tone for anything. Sometimes it's the nature of the thing. People that win this race, a lot of times they're in very good teams, they'll be in a contention to win the championship.
Q. Yesterday you said how you're in a contract year and you don't know where things are going to go. What is your gut feeling on that?
TONY KANAAN: I don't know, really. The past three years I've been working extremely hard, probably even harder than driving the car, to find the sponsorship to keep surviving. I'm not saying I'm not going to keep doing that.
I hope this win helps me a little bit more make it easier to either find a sponsorship or maybe get back on a team that it's well-funded. I'm not saying we're going to make the same money we used to make, because are different times. I would like to have a little bit less pressure on my side, to just really concentrate about driving.
But I really don't know. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm confident that with this we can build something solid for the following year. We're so sketchy up until this race, we didn't even know if we were going to do the entire year. Now I'm pretty sure we will.
But I would love to work a little bit less on that side. But if that doesn't happen, I will still keep doing what I'm doing.
My heart is that I build the team that I'm at. I have my engineer for many years, my crew chief, we won every single race in the past. If I'm capable of doing that, I will. If some other offer comes up, Jimmy is going to have to match it.
Q. With the race ending under caution, it started this debate about green-white-checkered. Where do you fall on that, maybe specifically for the Indy 500, and then to the whole season, other races?
TONY KANAAN: I think we should consider that. But I'm all about the tradition in this place. That was never done here. I'm not saying that because I won under yellow, because I lost plenty of them under yellow, as well.
I will be kind of in the middle to make a decision like that. Especially in a place like this, I think you want to see a finish under green. At the end of the day it's a race, it's the rules. People have different opinions.
I wouldn't discount that, but I need to elaborate a little bit more.
Q. Who have you talked to? What have you done since you finished up here yesterday? You mentioned some of the old guys. You and Dan were really close. What do you think he would say to you if he were still around after the race?
TONY KANAAN: What he would have said I don't think I'm going to be able to say here because he was going to be cursing at me the entire time.
I haven't had time to talk to anybody apart from you guys. I talked to my son yesterday. Apparently he has this impression that he's going to get the big Borg-Warner. He's going to be disappointed when I get the miniature. I didn't spoil that for him yet.
Rubens called, left me the most emotional message I've ever heard in my life. I could barely understand him. I didn't even know who it was at first. I was like, Who is that person crying like a baby?
But I've talked to a few people, not a lot of guys. I had so many emails and messages to respond, I'm still catching up. I talked to the key people, my son and a couple friends.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY KANAAN: He was flying back from Monaco. He was in the VIP room at the airport. I guess he couldn't speak very loud. He was trying to speak very low, and crying like a baby, so I couldn't catch half of it. I said, Text me, Bro, because I couldn't understand half of it. The only thing I could understand is that he was extremely happy for me.
Q. Was that in Portuguese?
TONY KANAAN: Yes. I can play it for you if you want later, but you can't understand it.
Q. Tony, you go to Detroit this week. It's going to be a very physical weekend. Do you take the momentum and the emotion? How do you get back in focus for a tough weekend?
TONY KANAAN: I hope I survive by the time I get there. It's going to be a long week. But it is what it is. I think that's why I train so hard every time. I don't know what to think about the doubleheader yesterday. I think it's going to be extremely brutal on the drivers. One race is hard enough. Two in a weekend is going to be extremely tough.
But we'll see. I think by the end of Sunday I'll have a full opinion about this doubleheader thing.
Q. You won there twice.
TONY KANAAN: I have to think so. Especially coming here with this good momentum, I think we definitely can.
Q. You and Eric Cowdin have worked together since '95. The only time you haven't had with him is four years. Can you talk about the relationship between a driver and an engineer, how you both have grown in this business, what it means to do this with him?
TONY KANAAN: I can't say that Eric is my engineer. Eric is a friend of mine. I'm the godfather of his daughter. We lived together back in the day when I first came to America and I barely spoke English.
When we were friends, we had to part ways because he got a better job at Penske, I wished him well. When it was time for me to get him back, I only had to say a couple things to convince him to come back.
I said, We need to win the 500 together. Yesterday I said, Now we did it, don't you think about leaving again because we need to set another goal.
It's a great relationship. I don't think we're the best combination in the paddock as far as the best driver and best engineer, but we're really good together. The chemistry's there. Sometimes that wins a lot more races than just picking the dream engineer and the dream driver to be together.
No, I was talking to him this morning. I don't think we still believe that that happened already.
Q. You joked yesterday about what you would have done to Munoz in those last couple laps. What do you think would have happened? You had two and a half laps in the lead, guys were coming. What do you think would have happened?
TONY KANAAN: I don't know. It was going to be a crazy finish, I think. Obviously it was totally a joke. Munoz is a good friend. We go go-karting all the time. He really impressed me yesterday.
I think it was going to be between me, Marco and Ryan at the end of that race. I was getting ready for that. Not because Munoz didn't have the car or the capability of it. I just think that when it was time to go, we can do things that he wouldn't be expecting us to do, because we hadn't done it the entire race. That could have caught him.
Actually he lost a position to me a few laps earlier by getting in the draft, getting too close to Marco. He kind of pushed out and had to lift. That's when I got him. I think those things go by experience.
My gut feeling was telling me that I think Marco had the best chance to win this race between the three of us, me, Ryan and him, but it was wide open. I did not want it to be Ryan win yellow, that's for sure, because I've been there. Then Munoz got in the mix and it actually helped me out a bit because kind of the way the things played out.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY KANAAN: Big-time, every lap. Either switch leads or we will do things that I could run a little lower to try to take the wind out the Ryan and vice versa. Definitely when I passed him, he was going to pass me the back straight. We were doing that the entire race. I was going to try to pass him on the front straightaway. I knew I was really strong passing him out of four. If he passed me out of two, that's what I wanted to be. But it was the opposite way. I passed him going into one. We swapped straightaways. I said, I don't want to do that.
I think the lead change was going to change in the last three laps at least two times a lap.
Q. The lead change so often, such crazy, manic racing, was that one of the most nerve-wracking races that you've been involved in?
TONY KANAAN: It was because, if you noticed, nobody wanted to lead. It's amazing. You're in the 500. People are like, No, no, you go first. No, you go. It was such a penalty to be up front.
I made the mistake to lead early on, and I had to pit two laps earlier than everybody else. I said, I'm not doing that.
When you drive slow, I would say slower, it's more dangerous because you hesitate. People are lifting in different times of the lap.
It was definitely nerve-wracking at times. Then you get some of the rookies saying, I have a chance to lead. You let them lead. You draft them. They have to pit three laps early. People yell at them.
It was a tense race, but it went so fast. I mean, it was crazy how it went.
Q. You're one of a long line of great Brazilian drivers. Who in particular inspired you and why?
TONY KANAAN: My biggest hero was always Senna. It's the way he conduct himself, the way he was with the fans. I kind of have the connection with my fans quite similar - I'm not trying to compare myself to him because that's an understatement - but he was always my hero, a guy I look up. I want to be him actually.
Q. When you were with Andretti, you were in a team where you were expected to win. How satisfying is it to win this race with a team that's not expected to win?
TONY KANAAN: It's awesome because I was nobody's pick for this month. I like that. I like the odds. Look how amazing this month was. A single-car team put it on the pole with half of the budget of those guys. A team with half of the budget of them won the race, as well. I like those kind of things. I believe it's a good thing for the sport.
The win has a better taste because nobody expect us to do it.
Q. You mentioned a little bit about the record pace of the race. 130 some laps consecutively under green yesterday. When you get that long of a green-flag run, how does that deal with your race strategy in terms of pit stops?
TONY KANAAN: That's what I mentioned. Everybody was saving fuel because it was green for so long that you didn't want to get caught on a yellow because you had to pit early and maybe the yellow would come out.
It was a fast race, a very fast race. You can tell how tight the field was because in the past you always had the mix of drivers that would make mistakes, and nobody did. A few people, but it was very uncommon to have more than halfway of the race.
I don't recall doing more than one or two stops under green here ever in the past 11 years. I'm probably wrong. Here we did almost all of them. I'm like, Can we get a break, I can drink my water a little. So it was a fast race.
Q. Changes come. Introduction to aero kits. People want to get speeds back up to Arie's record. Can lead to separation like we've seen in past Indy 500s. Do you think we may never see another race like we saw yesterday?
TONY KANAAN: Maybe. I totally agree with you. I still don't know if that's good or bad because the fans that finally got used to this.
I remember in the past it was never like that. We barely never put somebody a lap down yesterday. That's first of all because nobody wants to lead. You have the first and 17 six seconds apart. Hopefully we'll be on the good side of the gap next year and we'll see, but I don't think it's going to be like that at all.
Q. When you talked to your son, I saw the feature they did where he apparently said something, If you win Indy, you'll move to Brazil. Did that come up?
TONY KANAAN: Definitely. I was having a conversation with him about losing the other day. I was trying to teach him you don't win every time. He said, Yeah, dad, because as long as I remember I haven't seen you win. That was harsh. I made sure I took him to my mom's house, his grandma. I said, See all those trophies, man, those are all wins. You're not born, but I did win.
Yeah, this conversation came up. The conversation came up. I was talking about Indy. Obviously at six years old he doesn't know how big this race is. He has no clue. But a win is a win.
Dad, what's the race you want to win the most? You drink the milk. Kids relate to drinking the milk. He said, If you did that, would you come home? What he meant was, Would you retire?
I'll come home. I'll come back. I'll come back again. I had to fool him a bit because I'm definitely not retiring.
Q. On that note you said you wanted to race for a couple more years, the uncertainty of KV. There was a point five years ago when Chip was courting you when you were at Andretti. Any hope of getting another opportunity with Chip or Roger? You're an Indy 500 winner.
TONY KANAAN: I hope it changes. But I don't know. They have pretty good drivers lined up there. It has to be a cycle, right? It's always like that. Dario is not ready to go anywhere. Neither is Dixon. The Andretti boys, they just renew the group of guys they have, they have such a good guys. Penske, he has the most popular driver there and one that is extremely fast.
I don't know. I'm definitely not expecting anything. I don't think it's impossible. But, I don't know, I'd rather think this will help me find a sponsorship to build my team that I'm at than actually keep looking somewhere else for an opportunity. If the phone is going to ring, it's going to ring.
The win here helped, but I think these people, they know my capabilities already. If they wanted to hire me, they would have hired me years ago. Hopefully that will help us build KV the way I want.
Q. I asked Graham Rahal if an American winning the race would be good. He said that you winning the race would be almost as good as an American winning the race. In recent years after this race, the series has struggled for momentum. Last year there was the whole Randy is getting fired thing. This year you have a popular winner, it seems like there's positive momentum. Do you feel you can do a little bit?
TONY KANAAN: Finally I think, yes. I got the sweetest message from Graham yesterday. He came before yesterday and said, If I can't win, I want you to win, and I mean that. At the end of the race when I grabbed my phone, it was Roger Penske's message, Bobby Rahal's and Graham's. It was really nice.
It's hard for me to talk about myself. But I think you heard the crowd, they've been wanting me to win for so long. I heard yesterday the right person finally won. If it helps the series, that's awesome. I've been extremely popular here for so many years. And it was a great race.
Now we just need to keep it steady. I mean, we have the capability of making things. When something is on the high, we make it go on the low pretty quick. Hopefully we'll keep it that way.
Q. Can you compare and contrast when you started in the CART era?
TONY KANAAN: I've driven all types of IndyCars, I would say. I drove the Champ Cars with the thousand horsepower, a lot of downforce. Then we went to the Hanford device, which was worse than this as far as drafting. This car has a little bit less.
My most fun years were the years that we had the big horsepower cars and you just had to go flat out. Before it was pure racing speed. You had the faster car, you're going to take off and win this thing because you had a chance to lap the field. That's not going to happen nowadays.
Now you play the game we played yesterday. You feel it out, what kind of car you have during the race, and you position yourself to win.
So I would rather have more horsepower and do that. But nowadays with the cost, it's quite impossible for that to happen.
Q. Four years ago when you lost your sponsorship with 7-Eleven, you and Jimmy got together. That was a turning point. Can you talk about the influence Jimmy Vasser had on your career.
TONY KANAAN: I think Jimmy, he's been a friend for a long time. He took me out of my misery seven days before St. Pete. I got the call. Obviously we had to pull a few strings together. I don't think we've been very successful up until yesterday. We've been trying so hard. But the financial situation, it's hard. Jimmy was always a great supporter of mine, always believed we could do this.
They never won a race with KV. I said, If I can give you a win, I probably gave you the right one.
Now hopefully we have time to build this thing. Jimmy is a great friend. It's hard to treat Jimmy like a boss. It's almost impossible actually. He's on the radio with me the whole time. We're having a great time. I'm very grateful for the opportunity he gave me.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you.
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