For the first time in 14 years, Tony Kanaan didn’t take Turn One at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway flat out on his opening lap of practice this week while testing his new Dallara IR-18 Chevrolet. But he could have.
“My first lap, official lap, not the installation lap, I got to go flat through turn one just to prove a point. This was the first time in 15 years, 14 years, however many years I’ve been here, that I didn’t do it,” the Brazilian veteran remarked. It wasn’t a decision Kanaan made, nor was he scared.
All of this was in response to a question asked Monday which compared the Dallara IR-18’s first laps at IMS and those that the older Dallara IR-12 kit turned in 2012. While the IR-18 performed beautifully during open series testing, rookie orientation and a manufacturer’s test this week at the Speedway, the IR-12 was a twitchy, volatile, unpredictable beast that took quite a bit of massaging before drivers felt comfortable at full speed.
By Kanaan’s estimation, the two configurations are polar opposites.
“It was definitely night and day,” Kanaan said. “I mean, I remember when we came here, I don’t think I made the track flat until, like, six hours into day one.
“Today I could have gone flat in my first lap, but my engineer asked me not to.”
For a man that has seen Indy cars evolve multiple times over a career that began in 1998, you would be hard-pressed to find another Tony Kanaan. The 43-year-old won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 driving that Dallara IR-12 previously mentioned, and was a victor in the CART World Series and the early days of the Indy Racing League.
While the 2004 series champion has not won a race since 2014, early returns from the Speedway seem to be trending upward for the A.J. Foyt Racing driver.
Over the two-session open test day on Monday, Kanaan posted the quickest lap out of the 21 drivers that participated by running 226.181 MPH in the afternoon stanza. After completing 62 laps of practice the first day, Kanaan returned to the track on Wednesday to participate in the Chevrolet manufacturer’s test. Per Racer.com, it was once again TK leading the charge as he set an unofficial average speed of 226.700 MPH.
While various configurations were being tested by both Chevrolet and Honda, Kanaan was a full mile per hour ahead of the next-fastest Chevy in Ed Carpenter (225.4 MPH) and three miles per hour quicker than the top Honda of the day (Robert Wickens, 223.7 MPH).
Judging by his initial impressions of the speedway aero kit, a rejuvenated Kanaan may be a force to be reckoned with this May.
“I think (the car) was pretty smooth,” Kanaan elaborated. “You saw everybody came up to speed pretty fast, which is pretty remarkable in my opinion. To me it was a lot quicker down the straightaways, which was quite fun. It was like back in the day
“You definitely feel the speed going down the straightaway. You have to hang on into the corners. A little bit different, to be honest, but fun.”
While feeling the speed is an exciting phenomena for Kanaan to note, the challenges are still present as veterans have to transition from a high-downforce manufacturer’s aero kit to now the lower-downforce universal kit.
“I think for the rookies this year, that was the year if you’re a rookie that you wanted to get into the series, because everybody had to reset,” Kanaan explained. “For (the veterans), it’s hard to explain, but it’s always easier to go from no downforce to a lot of downforce because you just going quicker, you feel more grip. The other way around, it’s actually quite challenging.
“I see that because my teammate (Matheus Leist) is a rookie. I go, ‘Man, you watch, you’re going to go out and you’re going to feel it all.’ He comes in, he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He’s never experienced that. So that’s something, yeah, that’s a big difference this year.”
Leist indeed echoed those sentiments on Tuesday when he stated, “the feeling was not that much different from Indy Lights. (Those) cars have less downforce and go 20 MPH slower in the straights, but the feeling is pretty much the same.”
Nonetheless, the time sheets do not lie and an era of Indianapolis 500 racing with low-downforce aero kits could benefit Kanaan and his A.J. Foyt Racing crew for the foreseeable future.
Even if the team doesn’t let him go flat out on the first lap of practice.
“I was probably afraid of getting my butt kicked by A.J. today if I do something silly. I lifted the first lap.”
Images provided courtesy of INDYCAR Media.