Ahead of his biggest racing debut in years, as Tony Kanaan reverts back to being a rookie ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Kanaan reflected on his role in last Saturday night’s chaotic Rainguard Water Sealers 600.
Kanaan finished a season-best second in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after an eventful night. He was involved in the eight-car pileup on Lap 152 that took a lot of cars out, and was penalized with a stop-and-hold plus 20-second penalty for blocking and avoidable contact. Earlier in the race, he came in contact with Alexander Rossi. Despite losing a couple laps, Kanaan recovered them on wave-bys and drove near to the front before the race ended under yellow.
Speaking to reporters at Le Mans, Kanaan explained the nature of the relationship he has with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series driver fraternity and how he took – and endured – a beating after a rare “off night” in terms of his on-track driving style.
“We’re very unified. I’m one of the drivers that runs the drivers’ association and I think one of the biggest things that we did was try and bring everybody together,” Kanaan explained. “We’re a big family, we race and there are rivalries and stuff, but I don’t know. I don’t have the explanation as to why it’s different from here, but we’re definitely really tight.
“I got a lot of heat last weekend, for sure. My phone was getting bombarded by all the drivers. I got to talk to some of the guys that I needed to apologize to.
“Everybody is entitled to have a bad day, and I think if you admit that and we’re cool, we’re all drivers and we understand what we can and we can’t do.
“At the end of the day, I think for some reason we like each other! We like each other a lot, we think about the big picture and we try to make the series better. Although only one guy wins, I think a lot of the guys there don’t have big egos, and that helps a lot.”
Kanaan said the way the race style played out reverted back to what he termed, like others in the field, a pack race. Granted this was not at the level of low-horsepower pack races back in the IRL days – Kanaan survived through many of those as part of his 20-year career – but it was the closest thing to it since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012.
Interestingly, the driver meant to be racing at Le Mans instead of Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, lit into IndyCar’s Texas race in a Motorsport.com article. Kanaan wasn’t quite as graphic in his description.
“Yeah it was totally unexpected,” Kanaan said. “They had changed the race track, the layout of the track, and I didn’t expect the track to be like that. At the end of the day, it became a big, big pack race. I can assure you it will change that for next year.
“It’s a full package. It’s not just the cars. I think the tires as well, we didn’t have any tire degradation, the tires were too good. Everybody had a good car all the way to the end and that obviously didn’t spread the field out.”
Kanaan was able to recover the lost time thanks in part to the competition cautions, which were decided in collaboration between INDYCAR and Firestone owing to blisters that were occurring on multiple cars. Kanaan had no problem with the mutual decision to implement these cautions.
“For me obviously it was a safety issue there, because we were blowing tires, so I don’t think it was a bad thing,” he said.
“I mean we had to create that because Helio had blown the tires with blisters, and Firestone didn’t want to jeopardize anybody’s health. I think at that point it was necessary and we had to do it.”
The dream now shifts to Kanaan’s overdue Le Mans debut, with defending GTE-Pro class winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in Bourdais’ stead, sharing the No. 68 Ford GT.
Kanaan completed his requisite 15 laps in the first and only pre-qualifying practice earlier at Le Mans today; as a Platinum-rated rookie he needed only five laps to qualify to compete at Le Mans. Other rookies need to complete 10 laps.
“It’s not bad when you have a weekend off and they invite you to come to Le Mans. It’s a good problem to have,” Kanaan laughed.
“I’m glad that I get to do it and hopefully add some trophies to my trophy case. (If I win, it’d be) at the same level as my 500 and my Daytona 24 Hour win. There is one space for that!
“Seb is French, he lives here, and he won the race, so no pressure!! Very, very easy!”
Kanaan is now set for the first Le Mans qualifying session, which begins shortly at 10 p.m. local time in France, 4 p.m. ET.
Luke Smith contributed to this report from Le Mans