Q and A with Vasser and Kanaan
Tony drives the No. 11 Hydroxy Cut KV Racing Technology-SH Racing Chevrolet. Another milestone in his racing career this weekend when he takes the green flag in the Grand Prix of Baltimore, it will be Tony's 212 consecutive start. The streak started back in 2001 in Portland in Champ Car. What will start 212 mean to you and your career?
TONY KANAAN: Obviously, it's a great achievement. It obviously proves that I've been around for a long time, that's for sure. But obviously it's a remarkable achievement.
I didn't want to be beating one of my best friends in life and nowadays my boss, Jimmy. But I guess I get to brag about that. I guess I can't brag as much until I get to Sunday's race because Jimmy has the power not to let me start this race if he wants to.
Q: Jimmy, you said earlier that calling you Indy car racing's ironman isn't fitting because you don't compete in triathlons and when you were driving, your routine isn't the same as what the drivers do today. 212 races is an impressive feat. Being one of his good friends, as he prepares to pass you, what are your thoughts about what Tony is about to do?
JIMMY VASSER: It's a great honor to have Tony do it. He's the right guy. He's been able to, one, not get hurt too often. I think his streak would have been longer, he missed some races when he broke his wrist in Detroit.
TONY KANAAN: I don't have the right number, but, yeah, I missed one.
JIMMY VASSER: My first couple years in Indy car, we didn't do full seasons. So these are consecutive starts. It just means primarily you're able to keep a job for that many years, which is hard to do. That's a tough feat in itself.
Q: Jimmy, you guys are good friends and you've joked about it. Did you ever consider keeping your name at the top of the record books for the streak, when Tony hurt his thumb at Long Beach?
JIMMY VASSER: I suggested maybe he rest up for Indy. Our whole focus this year was at Indy. He looked at me and laughed. Just goes to show how tough he is. He's been driving through injuries, not only this year, but many times through the course of this streak. There's nobody else better. Kind of ironic that he's in the team and driving for us. I think it's a pretty cool thing. And we're doing it in Baltimore where the real Ironman Cal Ripken really built the house. It's all pretty cool.
Q: Tony, it's the third time that IndyCars have been on the streets of Baltimore. It's always a very exciting event. What kind of race do you expect this weekend on the streets of Baltimore?
I think it will be a very exciting weekend.
Q: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment thus far in your open-wheel racing careers?
JIMMY VASSER: For me really has to be a championship. So much goes into winning a championship. It's such a team sport. You know, I wasn't fortunate to win the Indy 500 from behind the wheel like Tony just did. But for me winning the championship was probably my greatest accomplishment.
TONY KANAAN: For me obviously I think this year's 500 for sure. It's the biggest one, I have to say.
Q: What do you think has been the key to your success with your partnership over the years? What makes you gel so much that has allowed you to win the Indy 500 and be a contender for the championship?
JIMMY VASSER: Quite honestly, winning the Indy 500 was great. We've come close a few times. I don't know how you feel, Tony, but we probably haven't had the success that we really want or maybe deserved. I would have to say that maybe Tony in coming to the team has brought in a lot of great talent, surrounded himself with great people. We helped facility bringing them into the team and Tony helped orchestrate that. I think we're still in a building mode. We need to be better.
TONY KANAAN: I totally agree. I think obviously you see teams have been established, like the big teams, they've been around forever. KV is a fairly new team, although we've been around for a long time, Jimmy, and (team co-owner) Kevin (Kalkhoven) before the unification. We're a fairly young team. I agree totally with Jimmy, we have not accomplished what we have hoped for. Thank God we think like that because if you're happy winning one race and having four or five podiums a year, that's not the right mentality to go racing. We're working extremely hard to build that. That takes time and sponsorship. Everybody knows the situation we faced three years ago. It's been a building process. We're still growing. One good thing, at this time last year I looked at Jimmy and said, Obviously we have a few years ahead of us until we become the team that we want to become, but let's focus on it. Jimmy says, I think we need to focus on the 500. We did that. We started working on the 500 in September of last year with a lot of things that we've done, not just in the shop, with the racecar and everything. Obviously it paid off. Now we look at each other and say, OK, we need to work for 17 races and win a championship.
Q: Where is the closest you came to missing a race? Has there been a time where you thought that you probably shouldn't have competed but you did anyway?
TONY KANAAN: The closest I think lately was that big crash I had at Indy, was that '09, I lost the suspension. The next weekend was Milwaukee. I was hurting. I had two broken ribs. I actually could barely walk to the car. That was the closest I got not to race. The one that I shouldn't have raced actually, I had a concussion in Detroit, which I stayed out. That's when the streak started out after in Portland. That concussion, back in the day, the technology and all the resources we have was not as accurate. I still think I wasn't right the week after that I went to Portland. I started the race, but I crashed three corners later and took Zanardi out with me, my teammate. I think that was the closest one.
Q: Tony, the business is all about sponsorships. 2014 season is a challenge. What is your take on that?
TONY KANAAN: It's been a challenge for me and Jimmy since day one. You know, every year we face some of the sponsors that we have are very loyal and some of them are new, people that we brought into the sport. But it's always negotiations. My take on it, this is the new era. You have to put yourself out there and try to sell the product. But for me, nothing has changed from last year. The only thing is we had a two-year deal on the table, so I knew at this point last year that I had one more year. We obviously are on the championship run every day since I got to KV three years ago. The more sponsorship you bring, the more resources you can hire, the better things you can have for the team. For me, it's another day in the office. People are starting to talk about all different things.
Q: Jimmy, who among the current Indy Lights drivers interest you the most, if any?
JIMMY VASSER: I mean, they all interest you. I'm always interested in young talent coming up. Eventually they're going to be the future, whether they come from Indy Lights or come from Europe or anywhere else really. One that stands out in my mind just from the great performance that he did at Indianapolis in the 500 was (Carlos) Munoz. I know he's in the fight. At this point I'm not really looking at Indy Lights drivers for the race team for 2014, so I'm not 100 percent focused on it.
Q: I know there's a break in the schedule before the doubleheader at Houston. Tony, what do you have planned during the break?
TONY KANAAN: I think trying to sort out our plan for the future. A lot to catch up on. I have to go to Brazil to talk to some of my sponsors. Although I don't like the break, I think it's too long, but now is the time that people make the decisions. So I'm going to use my time to try to make things happen for us to move along for next year.
JIMMY VASSER: We're also testing, doing a tire test, at Indianapolis. We're working for Indianapolis next year.
Q: Elaborate a little bit more on the test at Indianapolis, and who else is joining you?
JIMMY VASSER: You know what, I don't know. I haven't seen the list. I just know we're going to be there for the two days. We're preparing for that. It's great to get invited to a tire test. I think that's a product of Tony winning the race. I think it's going to be a valuable test for us for next year. I know there's a lot of speculation out there about Tony's status with KV, his status for 2014. But we're flat out working right now to finalize our sponsorship package to be able to present Tony with some sort of an offer during that break time before Houston, as well. It's fully our intention to keep the band together, so to say, the great team that Tony has helped put around him. I know there may be other opportunities for Tony, but we hope to keep him at KV.
Q: Would you expect teams to jump manufacturers during this period?
JIMMY VASSER: I think it's a possibility. I know some team engine contracts are up. It's a two-way street really. Manufacturers can really not want to be with some teams and some teams can maybe want to be with another manufacture. It's going to be interesting. That game has just begun, while the manufacturers are getting their budgets done for the future to be able to present to the teams what an engine contract or engine lease might look like.
Q: Jimmy, going back to the 2013 Indy 500 win, I know you and Alex Zanardi used to be teammates at Target Chip Ganassi. How much did it mean to you to have Alex celebrating the Indy 500 win with you?
JIMMY VASSER: It was fantastic. It's not just Alex. With Tony winning and Alex being there, Dario (Franchitti) showing his pleasure for Tony's win, and Max Papis. We had everybody there. The only one missing was Greg (Moore). It was a great, great, great moment in my lifetime. You look at the pictures, I've never had a smile on my face that big for a long time. Being able to ride in the car with Tony coming into Victory Circle. Zanardi brought his gold medal from the Olympics, said it had magic powers. It did. Tony, you might want to expand on the gift you gave to Alex.
TONY KANAAN: At the end of the race we finally got reunited in the bus. It's pretty hard when you have friends like Jimmy, Max and Alex. We were only missing Greg there and Dario. I was thinking, What can I do with Zanardi, his schedule, all the things he has to do, he made the effort to go to Indy, to be open about saying he was cheering for his friends, which was Jimmy and I. I felt at the end of the race, I got my racing helmet, the helmet that I won the race. I called Jimmy to the bus, and we presented Zanardi with that. The good thing is it's easy to get Zanardi happy, but I wanted to get him emotional and cry, and I finally did it. Later on I found out he cried when I took the checkered flag, but I couldn't see that. I gave him my winning helmet and told him to put it by his gold medal. It's a great story.
Q: Does it blow your minds when you realize 15, 20 years ago was when you were all racing against each other in CART?
TONY KANAAN: For me it was just like a friends’ reunion. That shows, apart from our friendship, hopefully it will last forever. It's how fortunate we are that we all did what we loved, and some of us were more successful than others. But we're still all together, to be able to share these little moments in life one more time. Obviously life has changed for a lot of us. Some of us, we don't see each other as often as we should.
Before we would spend life moments more often. After all these years it was totally unexpected, but I think we had plenty of memorable ones, and Jimmy and Zanardi have more because they were teammates. For me, it was one of those moments that will last forever. That picture of Jimmy and I rolling into Victory Lane, I think that's probably my favorite picture of all times. It doesn't need any caption on that picture. I can say one thing. Every day that I'm either sad or not very happy, me and Jimmy get on each other because we're mad about a race, I go look at that picture and say, that's it, that's what it's all about.
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