Starting 10th for this afternoon’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, A.J. Foyt Racing driver Tony Kanaan is well aware of the long day ahead of him.
Today will be Kanaan’s 17th start in the historic 500-mile race, and the 2013 winner has seen many evolutions of IndyCar machines since his debut in 2002.
Kanaan got his start in a G-Force Chevrolet driving for Mo Nunn Racing and qualified a stout 5th place as a rookie. The Brazilian had led 23 laps and was leading at the time he hit oil on lap 90 and spun, ending his day.
That would start a decade of heartbreak for Kanaan before he finally broke through for victory in 2013.
Over those years, Kanaan would run the Indy Racing League spec Dallara machines from 2003 until the debut of the Dallara IR-12 in 2012. From the spec cars, to a spec aero kit, to manufacturer aero kits and now back to another spec aero kit, Kanaan has been around the block.
Now, at 43 years of age and a mentor to a teammate almost 25 years younger than him, Kanaan is trying to diagnose how to approach Sunday’s 102nd Indy 500 amid the difficulties drivers have faced in race simulations this week.
With record temperatures expected for noon on race day, the stars of IndyCar will struggle to find grip as the new Dallara IR-18 aero kit loses its underside aerodynamic effectiveness with rising track temperatures.
In Kanaan’s estimation, you must run a perfect race to have a chance in 2018’s edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“A hundred percent (you have to), with how the series is today it is so competitive,” Kanaan stated. “If you have one hiccup and somebody else doesn’t, they’re going to win. That’s the way it has been for quite a while actually. Rarely you see a guy that dominates a lot now a days.
“Back in the day you only had 2 or 3 cars that had a chance to win but now you have 15 guys. It has to be a trouble-free day for sure.
While the racing is expected to remain exciting, drivers and team members alike are unsure how it will play out exactly. Despite the difficulties on the horizon, Kanaan still envisions a race with entertaining value for all.
“(The new aero kit) is just different, I’m not going to say that its better or worse cause it’s not it’s just different. I’m not going to say that the race is going to be better or the race I going to be worse it is just going to be really different.”
On media day, the question was popped to Kanaan asking if the talent level in IndyCar has risen since his introduction to the series. Without hesitation, the 43-year-old inferred that the series is as competitive as it has ever been and it is harder than ever to win the Indianapolis 500.
“A hundred percent, you look at how many cars there are and what is there, a second or two (difference) between first and last?” Kanaan asks. “Back even prior to me, you had two or three cars finish in the lead lap. Now, engines don’t break anymore… hopefully, but a lot less than they did before.
“Yeah man its so much harder. I was talking about that with A.J. (Foyt) because he likes to talk a lot about the sixties and he was like, ‘yeah we used to finish with one car in the lead lap or two cars in the lead lap,” and you watch those races and you hear people complain about how boring it was and how there were only 60 passes. I’m like, ‘guys did you watch the races 20 years ago? There were only 2 passes for the lead!”
Kanaan continued momentum on Carb Day when he led final practice in his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet.
There are certainly more than two passes for the lead expected on Sunday, and with Foyt’s resurgence in the IndyCar paddock and a driver like Kanaan at the helm, the day could end with a milk-splashed bath for one of racing’s most popular pairings.
Image courtesy of Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR Media.