Tony Kanaan isn’t counting, but Indianapolis 500 milestone means much

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INDIANAPOLIS – Veteran Tony Kanaan doesn’t keep track of how many starts he’s made in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but thankfully someone else does.

That will make Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 – the 300th start of the affable Brazilian’s career – a special one.

“I only realized it because someone at the beginning of the year told me that,” said Kanaan, whose 2013 Indy 500 victory was among the most popular in recent memory at the Brickyard. “I brought my whole family, (including his oldest son) Leo and my mom. I’m enjoying it as much as I did in ’13. I don’t know how long more I’ll be doing this. Hopefully for much longer. But as we all know, it’s not my decision.

“It’s awesome. I don’t count them and never did, but you look back and say, ‘That’s a lot. I made it this far, and we’re still going?’ I feel great about it. It’s a huge achievement.”

An immense disappointment in his home country – the cancellation of the scheduled season opener in Sao Paulo – provided an unusual silver lining in pushing Kanaan’s 300th start to Sunday.

“Obviously, what a coincidence,” he said. “Because I also missed four races because I was hurt in 2000. Everything felt at the right spot to be able to (make the 300th start) here. That’s pretty cool. It’s our biggest race. You can add that to it. It’s nice.

Indy has helped define Kanaan’s career as much as any racetrack. The 2004 series champion led in eight of his 11 previous attempts here before drinking milk two years ago in an upset bid with KV Racing Technology.

The victory helped propel him to a ride with Chip Ganassi Racing and helped shore up the sponsorship prospects of KV Racing, which is co-owned by Kanaan’s longtime friend, Jimmy Vasser.

“It changed my career,” said Kanaan, who turned 40 on Dec. 31. “It was my last year, (and) people were like, ‘Yeah, he’s not the same.’ It changed our lives. I was talking to (Jimmy) two nights ago, and we said, ‘Look what it made us. It bought us back, all of us.’ He got a good driver (Sebastien Bourdais), a good sponsor, and I got the job that I always wanted.

“It meant everything apart from the personal side of my achievements and how much I’ve tried. It just really changed my life.”

After struggling early in his first season at Ganassi (which also was in its first year with Chevrolet), Kanaan has found his stride. He had podium finishes in five of the last seven races of 2014 (including a win in the season finale at Fontana, Calif.) and is ranked sixth in points entering the Indy 500, where he qualified fourth.

Last year he started 16th and finished 26th at Indy because of a mechanical problem.

“We’re much better prepared,” he said. “I’m more confident. I’m more comfortable with the team. We definitely did our homework. We had to start the season stronger;  they’ve been saying that before I got there. We finally got it.”

Kanaan also has his wife, Lauren, and their 4-month-old son, Deco, at Indy this week.

“He sleeps 8 hours a night which is remarkable for a 4-month-old, so it’s been nice to have both of them this week there,” Kanaan said. “I thought I had a really bad qualifying run and was really upset. I came to do the traditional picture, and my wife was there with him, and I really could care less about where I qualified.”

Some milestones of the 300 starts:

Debut: March 15, 1998 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (finished 29th)

First podium: Sept. 13, 1998 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (third)

First win: July 25, 1999 at Michigan International Speedway

First Indy 500 start: May 26, 2002 (finished 28th)

Consecutive starts: All-time IndyCar record of 238, starting with the June 24, 2001 race at Portland International Raceway.

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other and four more finished the race – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

“Amazed is the right word,” Honda Performance Development president David Salters said when asked about reliability. “These are sophisticated cars. It’s not easy. It’s a testament to each group that they did a really good job. It was a fight all the way through the race. I didn’t expect that at all.”

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car. Salters said his

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021 — also in an Acura, which now has three consecutive Rolex 24s). Peter Gregg won the Rolex 24 in 1973, ’75 and ’76 (the 1974 race wasn’t held because of the oil crisis).

Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.