Kanaan makes strong move in IndyCar title race


Tony Kanaan admittedly wasn’t going to catch his longtime pal Helio Castroneves in the closing stages of last night’s IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, but he was still able to climb ten spots up the grid to a third-place finish in the Firestone 550.

Coupled with an emotional victory in last month’s Indianapolis 500, Kanaan’s started off well on the ovals this year, and his third-place result in Fort Worth also pushed him an impressive four spots up the IndyCar standings table. He’s now fourth in the championship (-64 points off of Castroneves), although he still has to cut away at a sizable 37 point gap between himself and third-place pilot Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Kanaan and his KV Racing Technology team were hoping for a potential late-race yellow to aid him in his charge toward the front, but the race stayed green for the final 106 laps. He relinquished second place on the track in order to make his final stop of the night under green with 30 laps remaining, but he used the fresh rubber wisely and got past Ed Carpenter for the final spot on the podium in the last stint of the race.

“On our strategy, we were actually counting on a yellow toward the end of the race which would have put us in a very, very good position for the win, but I’ll take third place here any day,” said Kanaan.

“The yellows didn’t really fall for us on TK’s car,” said team co-owner Jimmy Vasser. “If there were ten more laps, I think we would have been there, or if we’d have had a yellow when he got around Helio, I think that because we were so much stronger, they would have been sitting ducks and we would have had a shot at it.”

Still, Kanaan appears set to make more inroads in the championship during the next two races on the ovals at Milwaukee (Sat., 4 pm ET, NBC Sports Network) and Iowa (Sun., June 23, check local listings), where he came away with podium finishes last season.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.