Kanaan relieved just to be in Indy 500 field
He’s in the Indianapolis 500, and for Kanaan, that’s more than enough after a topsy-turvy few months that saw him twice on the equivalent of auto racing’s unemployment line. And just because the team that parted ways with him after 2010 — Andretti Autosport — struggled mightily in qualifying for the biggest race on the open-wheel calendar, Kanaan sees that as no reason for additional celebration.
Andretti tried to get five cars into the 500 during qualifying. Only three made it, while Kanaan grabbed the 23rd spot on the starting grid for KV Racing Technology-Lotus.
“People think I was happy about that,” Kanaan said. “That’s not me. You don’t ever wish anybody bad. I have so many friends, so many good people that I’m friends with on that team. It was sad to see.”
A different outlook would probably be understandable.
His time with Andretti ended when 7-Eleven dropped the primary sponsorship of his car. It’s a simple rule in racing: No sponsor, no ride. Even a hugely popular driver such as Kanaan isn’t exempt from that reality. So he had to find work elsewhere — first with Dragon Racing, in a deal that ended before it started over a lack of corporate backing, and then KV Racing, getting that pact done just days before this IndyCar season opened.
Some might call it mildly curious that 7-Eleven now has a presence again in the Andretti garage, but Kanaan insists he has no hard feelings.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh, they fired Tony.’ The sponsor left,” Kanaan said. “And yeah, it’s weird that the sponsor came back now. But I’m not there. I don’t know what the deal is. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If they decided to come back, it’s none of my business. When the situation happened, I know for a fact that the sponsorship was gone. I know for a fact that I couldn’t stay there because of it.”
Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion, is popular both with fans and fellow drivers, and having him in the field after the uncertainty of the last few months seems to be well-received all around.
“I happen to be very good friends with Tony,” said Oriol Servia, who will start on the outside of Row 1. “Of course I’m happy he’s doing well. And he’s with KV Racing, a team I’ve driven for three times. I’m very happy that he’s in the race, safe, and if I know anything about Tony and that team, they will be challenging for the win in the race. It’s always fun racing with the guys you respect the most.”
Kanaan has been through a lot, for certain.
On May 3, Andretti Autosport announced that 7-Eleven would be part of a group providing “primary sponsorship backing” for Mike Conway’s No. 27 car at the Indy 500. Conway was one of Andretti’s primary cars to not get in the Indy field. Ryan Hunter-Reay also failed to qualify for Andretti, though the team announced a deal Monday where he will replace Bruno Junqueira and drive A.J. Foyt’s No. 41 car in Sunday’s race.
Kanaan said he wanted to see Hunter-Reay — like him, a South Florida resident — in the field. Last year, Hunter-Reay essentially got Kanaan into the 500. Kanaan wrecked both his cars while trying to qualify, and another car with borrowed parts was put together. Kanaan wound up sneaking into the back row of the field.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Kanaan said.
So, too, is Michael Andretti, the owner who doesn’t have him anymore.
Kanaan acknowledged that at first, he was upset about not racing for Andretti anymore, which surprises no one. He and Andretti sat down when the sponsorship deal ended, and few words needed to be said.
“I looked him eye-to-eye and realized it was a shame,” Kanaan said. “It was a loss for both of us. He wasn’t happy.”
Andretti wasn’t happy this past weekend, either.
The team’s cars struggled with speed throughout its qualifying attempts, and neither Marco Andretti nor Danica Patrick was in the field until Sunday. Only John Andretti qualified on Saturday.
Sunday “was probably my worst day as an owner,” Michael Andretti said.
On Monday, Tom Anderson, Andretti’s competition director, lost his job. Meanwhile, Kanaan returned to Miami, smiling, relieved and ready to return to Indy for a chance at winning his sport’s biggest prize.
“I’m going to go for the win,” Kanaan said. “I’m going to go for my great starts and re-starts. The fans keep asking me for that. A lot of people are extremely excited that I’m not starting in the front. I’m not going to say we’re going to win, but after these last 15 days and what happened with the field, I can say this race is anybody’s race.”