INDIANAPOLIS – Put together a highlight reel of “Tony Kanaan’s Greatest Moves,” and No. 1 on top of that list would be his fantastic start to the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
Kanaan had issues in qualifications that year and lined up last in the 33-car starting lineup.
At the drop of the green flag, Kanaan had the greatest start to a race in his life, passing seven cars before getting to the second turn of the opening lap.
“I would have passed more, but there was a crash on Lap 1, and the yellow came out,” Kanaan said. “I thought to myself: ‘Why did the yellow come out? I was ready to pass even more cars.’”
Kanaan fought his way into the thick of the chase and was running second late in the race before he had to pit in the closing laps for fuel. He finished 11th that day, but the impression he made that day remains classic Kanaan.
“It’s about opportunity and timing,” Kanaan said. “You can’t plan on passing seven cars in the first lap. I was in a place where I didn’t belong. The car was much better than 33rd place. We had a problem in qualifying, and that is why I was back there. I know those guys, half of that grid, was slower than me.
“Sometimes, it makes it easier, too. It looks really impressive, but you have cars that are much slower than mine. My car was really good. I took the opportunity and timed it. If you watch the start, I didn’t do anything until Turn 1. When I saw the gap on the outside and everybody hugging the inside, trying to behave, I took the risk, and it all worked out.”
It takes equal parts skill, experience and an extra help of bravery for an Indianapolis 500 driver to make the moves that Kanaan has produced throughout his career, especially on starts and restarts.
“It’s tough for me to explain, but it’s something that I always had,” Kanaan said. “It comes natural to me.
“I don’t even think about it, I just do it, 100 percent. You have to know what you are doing, but I didn’t go to a class to learn how to start a race. You just go with your instincts.”
A close second on the list of Kanaan’s greatest moves was the final restart to the 2013 Indy 500.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was leading, and Kanaan lined up second as the field took the green flag with just three laps to go. Kanaan radioed to his crew, “I’m going to go for it,” in a race that featured an event-record 68 lead changes between 14 different drivers.
The green flag waved, Kanaan stood on the accelerator and passed Hunter-Reay heading into Turn 1. He led when further back in the field, three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti crashed in Turn 1 to bring out the final yellow flag of the race and finish the 500 miles under caution.
It sealed Kanaan’s only Indy 500 win to date.
“It was three laps to go, I knew I had to get in the lead,” Kanaan said. “There was one car to pass. I knew that year, the leader was always exposed. I said I was going to go for it and take the lead. With three to go, that’s not what you want to do because you didn’t want to be leading the last lap, but I think of all the races that I’ve lost because of a late yellow on a late restart.
“I placed a bet on that, and that is exactly what happened. It all worked out.”
When it comes to starts and restarts, Kanaan has set the standard. But there is another NTT INDYCAR SERIES star that Kanaan believes is the closest version to himself in terms of putting his car in areas of the track where other drivers will never venture.
It’s Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport.
“Absolutely, Alex has some of the similar talent that I have to start a race,” Kanaan said. “He said he used to watch me when he was coming up. He is the guy that has impressed me the most with the same type of restarts.”
Kanaan heads into his 19th Indy 500 start in Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
This would have been Kanaan’s final Indy 500, but without spectators allowed inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular Brazilian already has reconsidered and plans on returning for a 20th Indy 500 in 2021.
“I need to make it work first,” Kanaan said. “I don’t have a car yet, but that would be one more box to click in history in the Indy 500, and I hope to make it happen, that’s for sure. With everything that happened and everything this place means to me; it doesn’t make any sense to call it a farewell or a last lap without anybody here. That was never the plan. When we announced this in February, we were going to do a lot of things for the fans and a lot of engagement. None of that happened.
“This is definitely a no-brainer. I hate to change my mind, but it is really the right thing to do.”
Kanaan starts the No. 14 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet in 23rd position, the middle of Row 8. He is part of an “Auto Racing Hall of Fame” group of drivers toward the back that includes 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power on the inside of Row 8. Row 9 includes defending Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Kanaan’s Brazilian boyhood pal, starts on the inside of Row 10.
“That’s actually a positive thing we all have the experienced guys back there,” Kanaan said. “Usually, when you start in the back here, it’s with a bunch of guys who don’t have the experience or rookies or do this race very often. To me, it’s really comforting because I know nothing silly is going to happen. It’s actually a good thing.
“There are some younger drivers just ahead of us, so we’re going to have to watch it. Hopefully, they will behave, and we’ll be able to get through the first couple of laps clean and see what will happen.
“In Sunday’s final practice, we saw a lot of passing. We just have to be patient. It’s not like in 2013 when you decided, ‘I’m going to pass now,’ and you passed. That is no longer the case.”
Because of his aggressive, but clean, racing style and his fierce and tenacious personality, Kanaan has been called the “Brazilian A.J. Foyt.” Kanaan and Foyt have been reunited for the first time this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Foyt attends his first INDYCAR race of the season.
“It’s an honor to be called the Brazilian A.J. Foyt,” Kanaan said. “I hope to give him an honor next weekend with another Indy 500 victory.”