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CART Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Tony Kanaan
Leonardo Maia
August 20, 2002

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're happy to welcome on the call this afternoon two of the drivers that performed so well on the track this past weekend at Road America. In just a few minutes we'll be joined by Leonardo Maia of the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Leonardo captured his first professional win last weekend at Road America. But first up today on the teleconference is Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 Pioneer/World Com Honda/Lola/Bridgestone for Mo Nunn Racing. Thanks for joining us today.

TONY KANAAN: You're welcome.

MERRILL CAIN: Tony is coming off a fourth place effort in Sunday's Grand Prix of Road America Featuring the Motorola 220, and with this weekend's performance Tony has posted four top four finishes in two of the last three events and finished in the top eight in four of the last six races in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Congratulations on a good run Sunday. Even though you've had a rush of bad luck early in the season, you've obviously been coming up with better results as of late. Do you feel at this point that you and the Mo Nunn team are really starting to find your rhythm?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I think we found our rhythm since the beginning of the championship. We just couldn't get a break. Even if you look last weekend, it was pretty terrible for us until we got to the race. I think it was great. I mean, I did as much as I could. I won a bet from my mechanics. They told me I couldn't pass more than five cars at the start. I passed six. They had to buy me dinner. You know, I think we're getting in there. It's been tough, so I don't want to get excited or make any predictions, but we've been very consistent, up in the front. We had six finishes in the top five this year. With all those results, if we could actually collect those, I would be in a much better place in the championship. But, hey, we're moving forward. I'm excited about the next part of the season right now.

MERRILL CAIN: How do you handle that? It's got to be frustrating for you. The team has been quick on weekends, and at Mid-Ohio you were within a hair of another podium finish when things started to go sideways. How do you keep your focus, remain positive, look to the next week and try to do your best?

TONY KANAAN: Well, definitely we keep -- we're everybody together helping each other. We can never give up. As a team, we have a very good relationship, all of us. We try to put each other up all the time. A lot of patience. Believe me, I think God is trying. He wants to see how much patience I have left. It's not easy. It's very frustrating, especially when you have a result in your hand and it slips out like Mid-Ohio did, and Japan as well. We were leading. That's the way it is. That's racing. You know, it can happen to anybody. Last weekend it didn't happen to me, but it happened to a few of the guys. That's racing. Just take it easy and be positive and don't give up.

MERRILL CAIN: Hope those breaks come around your way. I think you're right, keep being positive, you'll get your way. Let's open it up for questions for Tony.

Q. Do you have some sense of how much pride there is back home of the success of Brazilian drivers? You have a chance to sweep all the open-wheel series.

TONY KANAAN: Well, it's been great. I mean, back home it's a party all the time. Brazil won the World Cup this year. We have Cristiano winning six races, Bruno won, always on the podium. Obviously, myself a little behind those two guys. But Rubens winning the F-1 race last week, it's been a big party, I tell you. Cristiano is very famous right now down there. He can barely walk on the streets anymore. That's good, because it takes a lot of load off my back. Being the older, besides Christian, the oldest driver in the series right now, people knew me quite a bit. They want Cristiano's autograph more than mine. So that's pretty good.

Q. Another of your countrymen, Felipe Giaffone, in Indianapolis, there was an awful lot of teamwork in the Mo Nunn garage.

TONY KANAAN: Oh, yeah. Felipe is a very good teammate, if I can call him that, because obviously we don't race in the same series. But definitely I hope he can do well there because he deserves the best. He's giving a lot of effort to that team, as well. Felipe is a good friend. It's up to him. It's in his hands right now. I can't help him on that one.

Q. Going to Montreal this weekend, these road courses, can you get some sense because of the close quarters of the excitement of the fans? Do the drivers feel that energy racing on the streets?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, definitely. I think when you have a big crowd, it's always a pleasure. You put a lot of pressure on yourself, believe me. I have been to some Formula 1 races to Montreal, in Europe, you can't believe how many people they have. Our races like Mexico, Long Beach, places like Vancouver, we can see so many people around, it gives you extra pleasure to race. You feel really important, "Okay, everybody is watching me." It's awesome. I love it. I have no idea how much people are going to be there. Talking to Tagliani and those guys, they say, "You guys aren't going to believe it." I can't wait. If I could, I would be there already.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about what people are doing next year. Do you have any idea what you're doing next year?

TONY KANAAN: I knew that was coming (laughter). No, not really. My contract, it's up. I'm talking to Morris, obviously. It's a team that I've been there for three years. We have good relationships. But I'm also talking to some other people. I don't know what's going to happen, honestly, in the future. I know where my heart is. I know what I want to do. Before you ask me where my heart is, I think I'm going to answer. I want to stay, if I can, in CART. Like I said, I'm a professional race car driver. I'm looking always for the best. Whoever can give me a competitive car in a competitive series, I'm going to take the job. I think that's pretty much what I have to say. I need to look for the opportunities. I can really choose what I want to do right now. That's very fortunate. In my position right now, especially with the tough season that I've been having, but people obviously know what's going on, so I have options. I'm going to try to evaluate those and see what's the best for me, for the team I'm going to race with. I'm going to decide. But right now I have no idea. Right now the only idea I have, I want to win a race and I'm going to try hard this weekend.

Q. Some of us on the outside may not realize what a tight community you drivers have there at CART. In Vancouver apparently you bought some gloves at an auction that belonged to Greg Moore, then you gave those gloves to Dario Franchitti. Talk about what the camaraderie is more or the friendships that you have in the CART series.

TONY KANAAN: Well, obviously those kind of things we don't do to tell the people that we did. I just did it because the whole story was I wanted the gloves and Dario wanted the gloves. We kept battling into each other trying to get the gloves in that auction. That was the only gloves that they going to auction. Greg never auctioned any gloves. They would never auction again. Dario has Greg's uniform, his shoes, helmet. I know he wanted the gloves. So I ended up buying the gloves and giving them to him. He's a very good friend. He's a great person. He's a very good driver. We're close. We're closer than people think. They cannot believe how close some of the drivers are. We have friendships, you know. We race against each other, yes, but at the end of the day, after Sunday at 5:00 in the afternoon, that race is gone, and the friendship takes place. I learned a lot of that with my past friends, including Greg, Zanardi, all these guys. Jimmy used to say that, Vasser, "It's just a race, man." Friendship, it's really important. Races, we going to be racing not forever. It's definitely the most important thing in my life, my career, trying to do the best out of it. But inside that, my friends are on a really high scale. I really do care about them a lot. That doesn't mean I'm not going to give them a hard time on the track. If you look, me and Dario, all those guys, we're close friends, and we're racing hard against each other. There's a place for everything. Friendship is going to last forever. I care a lot about my friends. I worry about them. I don't care what people think. People think it's strange how that can be, they think drivers should be more selfish because it's such a selfish sport, because only one guy wins at the end out of the 20, 30, whatever, how many drivers you going to have. If the other people think that's not a good thing, they don't know what they're missing about friendship.

Q. How many monkeys do you have in your collection now? Do you have 300 now?

TONY KANAAN: When I stopped counting it was like 155 or 156, but that was like a year ago. I'm probably up to 200 something right now. They're all over the place. I cannot have them in one place because otherwise it will take too much space. I have some in my race truck, some here, some at home, some in the office. My collection, it's getting bigger and bigger. I need a real one now. That's my next goal. I want a real one.

Q. And what kind do you want?

TONY KANAAN: The big one. If you go, go big. I want a big gorilla.

MERRILL CAIN: How did this collection of monkeys get started? How did you ever start on this path?

TONY KANAAN: Since I was a kid, I always loved monkeys. I used to ask my dad to take me to the zoo, give the bananas to the monkeys. When I was 13, I made a tattoo, a big gorilla under my arm. I think most of the people that know me, they saw pictures, saw the monkey under my arm. I just love monkeys. My dream is to have a real one, take him to the podium with me to celebrate. They say I'm a monkey myself. They say there will be two monkeys on the podium.

MERRILL CAIN: CART's new qualifying procedures start this weekend where hopefully it will be a better show for the fans, we won't have as much downtime when the qualifying starts, a short practice session followed by a break, then a more condensed and more intense qualifying session, 35 minutes. Do you think it's going to be a better show for the fans this weekend?

TONY KANAAN: Definitely. Obviously, you know, I'm obligated to run those 15 minutes. Some will just do a shakedown. It will be more exciting for the fans. CART is going the right direction. Chris Pook is really pushing, trying to improve everything. Whatever they do, I support a hundred percent. If that's the best way for the fans, that's who we're racing for. I'll be happy. Let's try it. Let's see how it's going to happen. I think it's going to be really exciting.

MERRILL CAIN: We talked about the closeness, the tight bonds that are formed on the racetrack with drivers. One of your best friends in the series, Cristiano da Matta, is having the season of his life. He's really taken the reins of the CART FedEx Championship Series. Talk to us about what it's like, your relationship with Cristiano, how happy you are for him on the racetrack.

TONY KANAAN: We're like brothers. Just 20 minutes ago we had lunch together. I came to the teleconference, he went to the bicycle shop to buy some new things to try to beat me on the bicycle this afternoon when we're going to go work out. We have a very close friendship. Like I said, I don't like to keep talking about it because it's something that we have for us. We want to share with people if they want to know, but it's not something that we really care what people are going to say. We spend a lot of time together. We work out every day together. He won six out of the 12 races this year. He should have won a couple more. I'm just happy for him, you know. I think he deserves it. He's a very good driver. He's on a very good team. He's putting himself in the position. He's very confident right now. He's carrying on the momentum through. Everything seems to be working fine for him. I'm really pleased. I think he deserves it. I know what he's been going through in the past with some problems. I said, "Hey, man, your time has arrived." I'm happy for him. If somebody besides me is going to go win the race, I prefer that my friend wins than the other guys that I don't have maybe enough close friendship or something. I wish him the best. I told him, I said, "It's a good thing and a bad thing because you're winning too much, people are going to start booing you. When I beat you, I'll have more pleasure." No, we're like brothers. I mean, we spend a lot of time together. We're going to spend New Year's together. We talk on the phone every day. People start to wonder times, "Hey, you guys, what's going on?" We're good friends. We get along really well, believe it or not, because we're very different personality-wise. He's a very patient man and I'm completely the opposite way. They say that's how it works sometimes. I just wish him the best. Not too much because I still want to beat the hell out of him. But, you know, he's a good guy.

MERRILL CAIN: You were sharing the same house. Are you still living together?

TONY KANAAN: Sharing the same house? He was living in my house, let's make that clear. I was paying the rent. No, he moved out two months ago. We lived together for a year. He had a room in my house. That's what friends are for. It was good company to have him around. He moved a couple minutes away from my house now. He's making enough money that he can live on his own. If I don't find a job next year, I am moving in. I told him, "I'm moving into your house, it's my turn."

MERRILL CAIN: You have a close-knit crew that lives in Miami, Max Papis, Christian Fittipaldi. Talk about how that bond developed. You still ride bikes together every day. The guy next on the call, Leonardo Maia, he lives in Miami as well. You actually take him out go-karting. It's a tight in it group, isn't it?

TONY KANAAN: Leo, by the way, congratulations to him. I think it's great. The first one, you're never going to forget. Me, Christian and Cristiano, we live close together. We work out every day. I have to put up with those guys, they put up with me. We work out every day twice a day. Leo, we see him on the racetrack now. He keeps buying these new engines and things. He's beating the hell out of me and Cristiano. I don't like that. I just bought a new engine for my go-kart that's coming next week. I'm getting ready with some good tires to beat his lap time over there. He's been pretty fast. It's a good guy. It's a guy that, you know, knows what to do the right things. When he's not in the Barber Dodge race, he's in the go-kart racetrack trying to improve his skills. I think that's the best way. That's what he should do. I wish him the best. Whatever we can do to help him, I think he can use us.

Q. You mentioned how you overcame your struggles earlier in the season. How about during the race weekend? Last weekend had to be a very difficult weekend with all the problems leading up to the race and actually even in the early part of the race. How do you put that behind you while you're racing and recover to such a good result?

TONY KANAAN: I think what you learn from it, you can never give up. Every time I jump in the car, I say, "Okay, this time it's going to work, I'm going to do my best." I guess those kind of situations kind of help you. I get not angry, but you get like, "Come on, it has to be right." You try harder and harder and harder. It shouldn't be that way. Honestly, you should try harder all the time. I'm not saying we do, but sometimes human beings take away some power that you don't ever believe you could have that. I think that's what happened last weekend. I kept calm in myself. I was really calm. I was upset, obviously - obviously. I think anybody in my shoes would be. But, like I said, we're talking about friends. I went out to dinner with Christian, Max, Bruno, Cristiano, they're all supporting me. "Come on, every time you're on the track, you're fast. This weekend, your car was good." That helps. You listen from the people that understand about racing. You keep trying to keep yourself up, which is not easy sometimes. You kind of let yourself down. But working with my mechanics closely, we had so many problems. We never ran a single session last weekend. We never change anything in the car until the race. Everybody was trying harder, with a lot of hard work. That worked out and paid off. I mean, I said, "Guys, just give me a car that can run the whole race and I'll do the rest." It worked out pretty well.

Q. I get the impression from some of what you say that some people have criticized you for having close friendships. I'm wondering if those are perhaps somebody in racing, outside racing. Is it drivers from previous generations where they were brought up that you don't have friendships with your rivals?

TONY KANAAN: I don't want to point fingers with anybody. People wonder if that's a marketing thing. Sometimes people put it that way. "Oh, yeah, they're acting, they're not really good friends. How can they like each other like that?" I mean, motor racing or any kind of sport, it's very selfish, like I said. You want to beat everybody. But that doesn't mean it has to be unhealthy. Some people don't take it that way. They say, "Come on, I can't believe it. How can you guys be such good friends like that?" But, no, there's not a criticism from anybody. I never got anybody in particular saying, "Oh." But you can see people, the way they look at you, they're like, "Come on." I think they go back with the battles, I don't know, Mansell and Senna, Senna and Prost in Formula 1. In CART, go back to the best, I remember Fittipaldi and Al, they banged wheels, Al got out of the car clapping. He wasn't mad. That's what's race is all about.

Q. I think he was mad.

TONY KANAAN: Definitely he was mad because he lost the 500. I don't think Emerson tried to hit Al. He just said, "Good job." Obviously, you get upset with each other, but there's nothing better than like Sunday night, we flew back home together, me, Cristiano, Christian, Oriol. We were giving Cristiano a hard time. Me and Oriol had a battle in the middle of the race. "Remember that? We were so close." You trust the people you are racing with, the guy is not going to do a dirty move on you. I'm not trying to send any message to anybody. I'm just saying the people that don't believe we can be that much friends, they should take a look and see what life is all about. Like I said, friendship is more important than anything for me.

Q. Life is supposed to be fun.

TONY KANAAN: That's always my saying: If you don't have fun in anything you're doing, you better try to find something that makes you excited and have fun. I'm having fun just to be alive and healthy. Problems we all have. That's life. My dad used to say before he passed away, "The longer you live, the more problems you're going to have to solve." It's a consistent solving these problems. That's how I get my motivation to keep going. I'm having fun racing right now. I hope I can keep that as long as I can. By the day I don't have any more fun racing, I'm going to try to find something else.

Q. Hope to see a monkey move soon.

TONY KANAAN: If I win Montreal, you'll see me do my monkey move on the podium.

MERRILL CAIN: Thanks for joining us on the call.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. It's a long time I didn't show up for a conference. Obviously the winners get to do the teleconference all the time. I told Cristiano I would do it this time because he's going to do his sixth teleconference today. I said, "Cristiano, you have nothing to talk about. Let me do it this time." I wish Leo good luck and congratulations of his victory. Was a pleasure. Remember, any race till the end of the year, if I go to the podium, don't laugh because I'm going to do my monkey move.

MERRILL CAIN: Looking forward to it. Thanks, Tony.


MERRILL CAIN: We bring in Leonardo Maia of the Barber Dodge Pro Series. We appreciate you joining us on today's call.

LEONARDO MAIA: Thanks for having me. Before we get started, I want to say thanks and congratulations to Tony on driving a really good race. I talked to him a bit before the race. He seemed kind of down. I was happy to see him have a good showing there.

MERRILL CAIN: It is good for him. Certainly one of those guys we like to root for. You, as well. Leo is a 21-year-old driver from Oakland, California, currently living in Miami. As we mentioned earlier, Leo captured his first professional victory at Road America after earning the pole position for the race. He's currently seventh in the Barber Dodge Pro Series standings. Talk a little bit about your performance this past weekend. Had to feel pretty good to get over that hump, get that first pro win.

LEONARDO MAIA: Yeah. Speaking of monkeys, it's good to get one off my back. Everything just went perfectly, the kind of weekend you dream about. You come into a weekend just kind of playing it over in your head like, "What can happen? What's going to happen?" This weekend, just everything worked the way I wanted it to. In the Barber Dodge Pro Series, it's so competitive, if you have just a slight slip-up, you're going to get swallowed up by the whole field. Everybody is really close. Everyone is really fast. It's good to just have a good weekend. To get my first win was just incredible. It was my first time on the podium. To come on the podium on top was a great feeling.

MERRILL CAIN: It was an awesome race to watch. We offer you congratulations. Let's take a few questions.

Q. What is it like for the younger kids to be in the environment with the major leaguers?

LEONARDO MAIA: Well, it's good to have those guys always around you. They always help out, wish you luck. It's good to have them racing with us because it's like you said, we can always look at them, look at Champ cars in particular and say, "That's where I want to be." Hopefully I can be there in a few years. Unfortunately, race car driving, it's not just what we do on the track. We spend a lot of time doing stuff off the track. We really don't get to spend a lot of time with the Champ car guys, unfortunately. It's good to race with them, but unfortunately we don't get as much time as we'd like to go out and maybe watch and participate in some of the stuff they do.

Q. Looks like it could be a great year for launching careers out of the Oakland area. Bill Leonard is involved in the truck series. Are you kind of overcoming something coming from an area that hasn't produced a lot of people in this sport?

LEONARDO MAIA: It's a great place. I've lived there pretty much all my life. You know, I'm just doing the best that I can, whether it's coming from Oakland or wherever. I mean, I can't explain that whole Oakland phenomenon. I hope it keeps going. We have another driver in the pro series, Christian Szymczak, who was on the pole at Mid-Ohio, also from Oakland. He's a good friend of mine. I don't know. Maybe it's time for Oakland to start getting in on this racing stuff.

Q. You wear a Brazilian flag on your uniform, but you're from Oakland?

LEONARDO MAIA: I'm from Oakland. I was born in Brazil actually, Rio. I moved to the United States in 1984, when I was about four years old. So I've been living in the East Bay in Oakland about 17 years. Just now I moved to Miami. You know, it's difficult being from one country and then living in another because you always kind of feel torn between the US and Brazil. I mean, I try to kind of split it up. On my car, I put the American flag. On my uniform, I wear the Brazilian flag.

Q. You have dual citizenship?


Q. Tony said you're beating him in the go-karts. Is this a good workout for you to drive against these guys in go-karts in Miami?

LEONARDO MAIA: It's definitely a good workout. Any time I'm not in a race car, I try to do laps in the go-kart. It's great with them, too, because I get to say I beat a Champ car driver, which only makes me feel that much better. I heard he got a new motor, too. That might not happen anymore.

Q. Have you wiped that shit-eating grin off your face yet?

LEONARDO MAIA: Not yet. Still here, big as ever.

Q. Road America, four miles long, probably twice as long as any racetrack you've been on before. What's the most challenging part of that racetrack for you? Is the mental part of it, keeping your concentration, extra difficult?

LEONARDO MAIA: Yeah. In terms of the turns, the most physical one I'd say has to be the carrousel just because you're in it for a long time. We pull close to the most Gs we pull at any track in that corner. But Road America itself is not very physical because you do get these huge straightaways that you get to rest on. It's not like Mid-Ohio where you have pretty much one straight and the rest of the track is a bunch of corners. In terms of concentration, it's probably the toughest race of my life because of those straightaways. Gives you plenty of time to think about actually messing up in a corner or something like that, trying to build up your advantage. I'd have to say it is probably one of the most challenging mentally because you're not doing anything to the car for a lot of the laps, so you have a lot of time to think about other stuff, unlike Mid-Ohio where you're focused on driving the car.

Q. "How many ways can I screw up this next corner"?


Q. Tony talked a lot about the friendships with other drivers. I noticed at Cleveland you went out of your way to congratulation Davy Cook for his win. Can you talk about your friendships with the other Barber Dodge drivers and how you go through a weekend with that?

LEONARDO MAIA: Well, we're all pretty much friends. Me and Davy have been friends for a long time because we pretty much started racing around the same time. We've been pretty much racing the same series our whole lives. He's a very good friend of mine. I just want to congratulate him on that first win of his. I told him he's one of the drivers that if I don't get to win the race that I'm just as happy that he got to win it. All of us in the pro series are good friends. I've had some problems with some drivers, but about two days later they're back to being friends. It's a great atmosphere. I'd like to reiterate what Tony said. It's good to have friendships in a competitive environment. It doesn't make you any more or less competitive; it just makes things that much more enjoyable.

MERRILL CAIN: You were talking about friends. The other side of the coin, let's talk about some rivalries. You have a rivalry going with AJ Allmendinger. He has had a pretty dominant season, winning the title. You have gone at it on the track a number of times. You also were in competition with him for the Barber CART scholarship, which you ended up winning at Sebring in December. Talk about your battle with him, what that's been like this year.

LEONARDO MAIA: For most of this year, he's had the upper hand. Just now I'm starting to maybe get in the groove and starting to show what I can do. He did a great job in the National Series, the Formula Dodge National Series last year. Just barely lost it to Julio Campos in his first year, which is really impressive. I was fortunate enough to beat him at the shoot-out and win the scholarship. He came right back, you know, as big as ever and just pretty much dominated this whole series. Finally, now I'm just starting to get warmed up. Hopefully I'll have something for him in the last race at Montreal.

MERRILL CAIN: Are you excited about going to Montreal? Obviously a place where there's a lot of tradition and history. Are you looking forward to it?

LEONARDO MAIA: Oh, yeah, definitely. There are a couple Canadian drivers in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. They've been telling me all year how great Montreal is going to be. The first two races there were just completely mind-blowing. I've never seen that many fans. Really informed fans, too. It's looks like a great track. Formula 1 circuit. Champ cars are going to run on it for the first time. It's going to be pretty much new to everyone. I'm just really looking forward to it.

MERRILL CAIN: Thanks for joining us on the teleconference this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck coming up this weekend in Montreal, and best of luck for the remainder of the season, as well.


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