Tony Kanaan rewards faith of Indy 500 fans

1 Comment

As the heartbreaks grew for Tony Kanaan at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so did the number of people that wanted to see him have his day.

It was overcast when Kanaan took the checkered flag this afternoon at the Brickyard and won his first Indianapolis 500 in his 12th attempt. But it might as well have been blue skies and sunshine for him and his loyal fans, which cheered as the Brazilian dueled for the lead throughout the race and when he took the point for good on the final restart of the day with three laps remaining.

When Dario Franchitti hit the wall shortly after Kanaan had grabbed the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay, the caution came out and the celebration was on in the grandstands. The fastest “500” ever would end with one of its most popular winners ever.

The roar of the crowd reminded Kanaan of the applause he received in 2010, when he charged from 33rd all the way to the lead only to have to abandon second place with five laps to go in order to get fuel.

“The fans, they actually spoiled me a little bit on my win, because when I finished 11th here – starting dead last – I got out of the car and it was exactly the same [as winning],” said Kanaan. “So, I already had felt [that feeling] a little bit. Obviously, I hadn’t drank the milk, kissed the bricks, all that stuff.”

But now he has, and Kanaan remains gracious about being as well-respected as he is by the fans, saying that it had always “caught him by surprise.”

“I can’t walk out there [without being cheered] – I couldn’t before, I don’t know now, maybe it’ll get worse – the [500 Festival] parade, everywhere, it’s just unbelievable,” he said.  “It’s nice. I think wins are important, trophies are nice but what I’ll take forever is definitely this.”

His KV Racing Technology co-owner, 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser, also took note of how popular Kanaan’s win was – both on the drivers’ side and from the fans’ perspective.

“He’s a great leader and that’s why it’s such a popular victory – and it’s not just the drivers,” Vasser said. “I was blown away riding around in the pace car and virtually everybody was still in the stands chanting ‘TK, TK!’ It just shows the love that they had for him…It was phenomenal.”

Kanaan figures that the Indy fans’ love for him began at the 2009 “500”, where he crashed because of a drive shaft failure while running third on Lap 98. He took two hits against the wall – one against the backstretch and another at Turn 3.

When his car finally came to a stop, he heard cheers from the crowd as he climbed out of his battered machine.

“And since then, every year, it just kept growing and I think every year that went by when I didn’t win, we just kept growing the fan base,” he said. “More people felt sorry, more people felt I deserved to win. It got out of control. But it’s awesome.”

But now that he has drank the milk and kissed the bricks, what happens next?

“Now, probably, people won’t even cheer for me anymore,” said Kanaan, earning a wave of hearty laughter from the press.

If the masses at IMS this afternoon were any indication, he’ll never have to worry about that problem.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.