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IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Tony Kanaan
May 17, 2005


TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everybody welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We're very excited today to be joined this afternoon by the polesitter for the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500, and the man who also won the IndyCar Series championship last year, Mr. Tony Kanaan. Tony, thanks a lot for taking some time and joining us this afternoon.

TONY KANAAN: You're welcome. Sorry about the delay. I was doing some work on the racetrack with my engineers, but now I'm ready.

TIM HARMS: Understandable. Congratulations on winning the pole. Why don't you just tell us, to begin with, a little bit about the month so far, especially the significance of winning the pole here at Indy.

TONY KANAAN: Well, it's been -- I can't complain. It's been a great first week for me with all the car, pretty good at the beginning. And with the help of my teammates, I got the last speed that I needed to have the car perfect for qualifying. I really should give a credit to Dario and Bryan because they helped me out a lot on that setup, you know, to get a good run. It was a long day for me. We got a pretty early draw, and, you know, I was third car out. By 12:30, I was done, so I had five and a half hours to wait. It's pretty nerve-wracking, especially towards the end there when Castroneves was trying to beat me. It worked out pretty good, so I'm happy. Just enjoying the moment. I'm really working. Like I said, I was late because I was really thinking about race setup. So now, you know, the pole its gone, it's just a matter of getting the car ready to be able to finish where we're starting right now.

TIM HARMS: We'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the media.

Q. I have a couple questions, the first is what have you learned from the first few Indy 500s that you've run maybe strategy-wise that you think will help you for this one? Dario said that you should give him the lawn mower because you have a very small lawn. I was wondering if you plan to do that?

TONY KANAAN: That's a good idea (laughter). Well, what I've learned, you have to have a fast car. We went pretty conservative the last two Indy 500s that we raced here. So towards the end, I felt that I wasn't fast enough. I was always very worried about getting my car good in traffic, and I think I went over too much on the downforce level. So the car was basically too (stuck?) towards the end, so it was slower than the other two. And last year, it was slower than Buddy's. That's basically what it is. About Dario, I think I will give him the lawn machine that I got because he has a lot of grass in his house, and I don't. Actually, it's really good, because my wife already told me that I had to buy a bigger house to have that at home. I don't want to do that. I like the idea. He's with me here right now, actually right beside me, and he liked the idea, too.

Q. What would winning this Indy 500 mean to you?

TONY KANAAN: Well, to win the 500, I mean, it will be a complete sweep for me on the IndyCar Series. I mean, I done the title last year, so I guess this is what's missing right now. So for me, it would be great. I think for the team would be great, especially for Michael, that he tried so many times. So I think we're pretty capable to do that - not just me, but my other three teammates. So I have to say that, you know, we're pretty close. So we'll see. I mean, it's a long race. We got to just work hard to try to accomplish that.

Q. What is the hardest part of the race?

TONY KANAAN: I would say the two weeks before (laughter). It's a long wait. So the race is just another 500-mile race. If you get there towards the end, you know, after the last stop, you got to set yourself up to be able to win the race. I don't think it's any harder than the other race. I think just the wait for the race is just so long that probably it's worse than anything else.

Q. You talked about the long day, sitting around and waiting. What was going through your mind? Were you trying to do something to keep your mind off of what was going on?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, yeah, man, I tried everything I could. I bugged Michael, I bugged Kim Green, I bugged Dario, I bugged all the engineers. I went back to my bus, bugged my wife. I mean, I was just trying to get away from it, but it was a long day. I remember at one point, I looked at the watch. It was 4:00. Then I said, "Well, only two hours left." I hang around, walk around. Well, look at the watch again. To me it felt like an hour went by. I look at the watch, it was 4:05. It was nerve-wracking for me, especially when you're the target like that. I mean, we set the pace, so everybody is chasing you. Sometimes when you're the chaser, the day goes by a lot quicker. You don't realize it, you're working on it, trying to beat somebody. It was a long day

Q. What has the response been back home?

TONY KANAAN: Big. I got a lot of phone calls from my friends. I mean, the TV ratings for the qualifying, which was live back home, were huge. So obviously, we definitely creating a lot of expectations back home. So we're going to be able -- we're better be able to keep it. It's been great. I have to say the IndyCar Series has grown a lot in Brazil after I won the championship last year. So I'm very happy about that. So hopefully I can give those guys a win.

Q. When you were taking your laps in qualifying, could you feel that you had a flyer going, that this was going to be a great run?

TONY KANAAN: I felt, you know, I had a good car from Thursday. So I felt it was a good lap, but I wasn't sure that I could put it on the pole. I mean, I thought somebody could still beat that time. So what I did, I just -- I thought I left a little bit on the table actually, because my warm-up lap was a little too quick, actually it was probably my quickest lap, and that didn't count. I thought, well, I think if I have to do it again, it will be better. So I was ready to do it again if somebody had beat me and if I had the time to do it.

Q. Since you're now a part of history as a pole winner at the Indianapolis 500, do you walk a little taller in the garage, "I can strut now a bit"?

TONY KANAAN: Not at all. The only person that can walk a little taller in the garage is maybe Danica because she can wear high heels (laughter). I mean, my teammates keep me on the ground big time because the pole is just 10% of the race. I mean, by the time we drop the green flag Sunday, nobody's going to remember who started on the pole. Not at all. I mean, I'm down-to-earth working really hard to get my setup right to be able to have a good race car.

Q. You talk about Danica. I would imagine that every male driver there was aware of all the attention being given to Danica. What was that like? Did it take away from anything or were you guys just so focused on your qualifying that you didn't even have time to notice?

TONY KANAAN: I mean, you know, it's fair that the attention is on her. I think she's a fast female and she's doing really good. If they want to turn the attentions on her, it's fine. We go there and we beat her, so they going to have to talk about us. So basically that's the way it's going to go. Looks like everybody likes her a lot. Everybody has an opinion. So they can talk about it as much as they want. But if it's a good race car driver, to me it doesn't matter if she's a female or male, I'm going to try to beat anybody that comes my way. That's the way it works. I didn't pay attention at all what they're saying about her. I don't read papers. I just go out and do my job. My job is to be the best guy out there and the fastest. So I think we accomplish our job so far.

Q. Certainly not to look ahead, you ran well here at Texas, you were inducted this past March as the Driver of the Year at Texas Motor Speedway, and I understand you like barbecue over here, is that right?

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I like barbecue.

Q. For you, what does it mean to start No. 1 in Indianapolis? What are you expecting in this race because of this history of Brazil in this race?

TONY KANAAN: Well, obviously the race is pretty big for me. I mean, I'm expecting the best. I think I'm starting in a good position to win the race. You know, I can only work really hard to win. I mean, that's one of my dreams. I'm very happy. We got to work hard. We definitely got to work hard. We'll see what's going to happen.

Q. Regarding having a faster car, is that some kind of an adjustment you can make mid-race, get a good-handling car during the middle of the race and then make some adjustments to give it a little more speed for like the last run or two?

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, we do have an option of actually dropping the gurney, which is the little piece that goes on top of the wing. We have an adjustable, everybody do. So that's the only thing you can do. But the thing is, if you do that, you got to compensate the front wing, too. So that's a long change. You might have to give up either not changing one of your tires to have one of your guys doing that, otherwise it's going to take too long. So we got to be careful how much do you want to change, and it's going to matter how quick is going to be your pit stop. So basically, you know, it's like giving and take. If you think you can lose a little bit of spots on the pit stops just to -- you know, you'll be able to be faster to pass those guys back, will be okay. But otherwise, I mean, it's too risky, you know. You might have to make up your mind on the beginning of the race and maybe struggle a bit in traffic with a light downforce car, so by the time you get to the last stop, you're ready to go.

Q. Bruno was saying how much he watched Emerson when he was a kid back in Brazil. Were you a big Emerson fan, too?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, yeah. Emerson's a legend back in Brazil. He set the standards for the Indianapolis 500 for anybody that is Brazilian. He was a reference. He brought the standards back and then made the Indianapolis 500 very famous in Brazil. Then Helio confirmed that two years, and then Gil. So everybody is expecting no less from me, Bruno or Vitor to win this race, for sure.

Q. You're not letting Helio win three?

TONY KANAAN: Come on, I didn't let him have the second pole, so why should I let him win?

Q. One thing he said, "No offense to my buddy Tony, but he'd like to see history made of Danica winning it." I'm sure you owe him one for that.

TONY KANAAN: That's okay. He will starve. I will take him to dinner and don't let him eat anything (laughter).

Q. In a 500-mile race like this where there's so many pit stops, and so much can happen during the race, how much of an advantage is it really to start on the pole? Is it really just an advantage for the first couple laps?

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, you said it all. I think it's just an advantage for the start and the first couple laps. After that, my friend, you got to catch traffic, you got to have a good car. If your car goes off, somebody's going to pass you. So, I mean, obviously everybody tried to be on the pole because feels good. But, you know, no matter, doesn't matter anything. That doesn't say you have the best car for the race. So, you know, it's a good feeling. But like I said, we got to work hard because if you don't have a good race car, you can go back in a hurry.

Q. How hands-on, too, of an owner is Michael? Is he in there working with you guys all the time?

TONY KANAAN: All the time. I mean, especially with me last year when I was fighting for the title, trying to ask him, you know, things that he already went through his career, being tense, all the doubts that I have. So he's always there for us. He helps Dan a lot, Dario, Bryan, myself. I mean, he is there. He is fully committed and he's there for anything. I keep asking him 10 thousand questions. I think I bug him all the time basically because obviously, you know, if I can -- as much as I can learn from him, I will, because he's, you know, one of the best guys out there to be able to give you an advice.

Q. One of the things I like about the setup with this race is I remember what Rick Mears said many times, that it doesn't really matter where you start the race at the front or the back, if you're on the lead lap with 50 to go, you're in pretty good shape to take a challenge to win this. Knowing that you completed over 3300 laps last year, the only driver to finish every lap of every race, I think if you look at it mathematically, you've got a pretty good chance at this.

TONY KANAAN: I think so. I mean, thanks for bringing me up because that's a pretty good factor. Obviously, my teammates are thinking the same thing, no matter where you start. So they're going to be strong. You know, I had good results in this place. We have a good record, finishing every lap of every race up until Japan, that we missed one lap, but we still finished the race. I think we have a pretty good chance. But everything has to go right during that day for us to be able to win still. We try to get it. But, yeah, I guess we're in a good position, I have to say.

Q. You're in a good position on the pole. What would constitute a good start for you? I suppose the obvious answer is that you want everybody to get through that first lap cleanly and not have anything happen. You have to pace 32 other guys across the line. What would go through your mind in terms of what would constitute a good start for this race?

TONY KANAAN: Just a clean start, no matter if I can keep the lead or not. It's such a long race, it doesn't matter if you lead the first lap. But I'm trying. I'm the one setting the pace. I have a little bit of advantage, but to me just to have a clean start. And after that we'll sort it out.

Q. When I walked out of the conference room on Sunday afternoon, I heard somebody say that Tony Kanaan is in the best shape of his life, he's got like 5% body fat. I'm wondering have you upped your already very rigorous program this year to get in even better shape?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, obviously I try to improve every year. As a typical race car driver, you're trying to make it better every time, be faster every time on the bicycle, on the run, on the swim. I've been training a lot, more than I ever did. Probably my wife is not very happy about that. But definitely I am in the best shape of my career, for sure. But not necessarily transferred to the speed on the racetrack because it's not a hundred percent physical thing on the race car. You got to have the engine to pull you on the car and everything. But, yeah, for sure it helps me a lot. I mean, I get out of the race car, I'm ready to do another one right away. I would say what it plays in my advantage, I don't get tired at all, so I have my mind clear, not worrying about my physical condition. So that's one less thing that I got to worry about. You know, but you're right, I mean, and actually it's 4% of body fat, not 5% (laughter).

Q. Pretty impressive.

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I mean, I've been starving a lot by lately for sure. My teammates yesterday, as a bet, they took me out to have a cheeseburger because was almost six months that I didn't have one, and some french fries. I was sick all night after that because, as you know, if you don't eat some of that stuff for a long time, your organs didn't take it very well. So I'm still talking to the cheeseburger by now. It was okay to celebrate a pole position.

Q. You're really serious about what you eat, your fitness level. It's part of your comfort level to be really fit?

TONY KANAAN: Oh, for sure. If your body is fit, your mind is clear. Actually I'm thinking about not just the race, I'm thinking about my long life that I hope that I can have. The healthier you are, as you get older, the better shape you're going to be. So staying in shape and eat healthy, everybody should do, not just race car drivers or athletes. That's what I try to follow all the time. I mean, I'm not very freaky about all the time but, you know, I don't go to the extremes, but I try to eat as healthy as I can.

Q. As far as the attention that Danica seems to be getting this weekend, I'm curious.

TONY KANAAN: This weekend?

Q. That's what I was going to ask about. I'm curious more, have you noticed much of a difference with the fans?

TONY KANAAN: I think the fans are always going to pull for her. I mean, I heard when she went out qualifying, I mean, the fans went crazy, just completely crazy. When we went out, they just clapped, like, "Yeah, all right, go ahead." And that's normal. Come on, we got to be realistic. She's very good. She's good with the fans, I think. She's going to be popular. I mean, Sarah Fisher, last year, she was the most popular driver, and she wasn't even in the race. So it's normal. And I think it's okay. I don't get -- it doesn't bug me.

Q. From a perspective of that being good for the IRL just to help draw in new fans, is that kind of how most drivers see that situation rather than be envious of it? Is that a situation where everyone can sit back and enjoy the extra attention?

TONY KANAAN: Look, the way that I see, that's my opinion. I think it's very good for the series, okay? It's going to bring people to the racetrack. People is going to watch her. If they watching her, they watching us. I'm not jealous at all. I don't get bumpy if she's in front of me because I'm taking her as one more competitor. Doesn't mean if she's a man or a woman. When she put her helmet on, I can't see it, if she's a man or not. I think it's great. She's done a great job. I have to say that I am really impressed. She's very mature. She's in the right team, in the right place, in the right time. So let's give her the credit and let her get all the attentions because she's getting all the attentions. If we go out there and we beat her, it makes us feel much better, I think.

Q. Her being kind of in the right place at the right time with the right team. Talk about this team, the competitiveness that they've brought. Obviously your team has been one to contend for many years. The Penske team has been there many years. It's making it a three-team race.

TONY KANAAN: For sure, she's in the right place. Buddy is there, Vitor is there to help her out. She has two very good teammates. The team step up. We have the same engine; we just have different chassis. You know, I think why she can't -- she very talent. We got to work really hard to try to beat her.

Q. The track is different this year. The grip levels are different. Do you see the ability to run side by side over 200 laps on the 29th or do you think we're going to be doing a lot of following and not too much two and three abreast?

TONY KANAAN: I don't think we're going to see three abreast at all. If we are, somebody's not going to make it. Two abreast maybe, but not like the other racetracks, like you can go all the way around for a full lap. The track has a lot of grip. But the nature of this racetrack, it's not like you can run side by side for a long time. So you're going to see single file and people passing each other and then giving up the corner and that's going to make exciting. But I don't think we're going to see like a Texas race, for example, because it's not the nature of the racetrack.

Q. You were talking about the emotions of waiting for everything to end. When you finally realized that you were on the pole, what went through your mind?

TONY KANAAN: Well, first of all, I was very happy. I'm like, "Whoa, that's cool." I want to be part of history, and I am making part of history. I'm sitting on the pole for Indianapolis 500. How many guys are able to do that? So that's the first part, because now I got to win the race. I was worrying about the race already. I enjoy it. It makes me feel proud of my job, proud of my team, and very happy. It's one more accomplishment that I got in my career, which is, you know, I came all the way -- came so far that, you know, I have to thank God a lot because I think I'm very fortunate. I worked really hard to be where I am, but obviously I got a lot of help from a lot of people. I was proud of myself. I mean, not talking in a cocky way, but I said, "Good job, TK. You did good, but let's put your feet on the ground again and let's go because we have a race to do, a 500-mile one."

TIM HARMS: Tony, thanks a lot for taking the time out to join us this afternoon. We appreciate that. We wish you the best of luck in a couple weeks in the race.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you, guys. Again, sorry for the delay. I promise I'll be on time for the race (laughter).

TIM HARMS: Thank you. One special announcement for you folks on the call. The IRL will conduct a special teleconference this Thursday morning with 500 rookie Danica Patrick. The call will be Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern time, 10 a.m. Indianapolis time. The call number is the same as you dialed today, 866-475-2663. The confirmation number to use for that call is 11755250. That's Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern with Danica Patrick.

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