Consistency Key For Kanaan

It wasn’t his March victory in the Copper World Indy 200 or runner-up finish in the 88th Indianapolis 500 in May that Tony Kanaan signals as the turning point in his IRL IndyCar Series championship season.

Actually, the title race had little to do with his season of consistenly solid results.

The Andretti Green Racing driver said Buddy Rice’s first-lap exit from the Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in August gave him a cushion in the standings as the participants had been matching high finishes. Kanaan, who wrapped up his first major open-wheel racing series championship in the penultimate event, could relate to the disappointment felt by Rice.

“If you look back last year at the (August) Nazareth race, that’s when I think we lost the championship,” said Kanaan, who finished 18th in the event after a Lap 119 crash.

He was still in contention entering the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, but finished 14th in the event because of late-race contact with another car and fourth in the standings.

“We were very, very close in our first year to winning the championship,” team co-owner Kim Green said. “I think everybody on the team worked even harder this year. (The title) is extremely satisfying.”

This season began with an eighth place at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which – in comparison to his succeeding accomplishments – could be considered inferior. Kanaan followed with two victories in the next four events, and posted an IndyCar Series-record 15 top-five finishes in all.

There were more records, including laps led in a season (889) and becoming the only IndyCar Series driver to complete every race lap (3,305). That statistic is like a major leaguer batting 1.000 or an NFL quarterback completing every pass.

“So many things can go wrong over the course of a season,” said Kanaan, who finished second to Helio Castroneves in the season-ending Chevy 500 on Oct.17 at Texas Motor Speedway. “All it would take is one flat tire, one minor collision, or even one failed part on the car to stop it. That we’ve managed to go all year without one of those things happening is a real tribute to our team.”

At an Open Test at Phoenix International Raceway in February, Kanaan indicated that consistency in qualifying (he has 15 top-10s) and in races on the various challenging ovals was the key to his season. Three or more finishes outside the top 10 and he would be counted out of the championship chase.

Kanaan knew what he needed this year from the crew working on the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, his three teammates and himself.

“You know, Tony drove like a champion from the first race on,” said team co-owner Michael Andretti, who retired as a driver after the 87th Indianapolis 500 in May 2003. “He proved that he is the champion this year.”

A follow-up title in 2005 is Kanaan’s goal, when he could place No. 1s side by side for title sponsor 7-Eleven. Of course he knows – as does everyone else -- it won’t be easy. But he has built-in benefits.

Andretti Green Racing drivers have combined to win eight of 16 races -- three by Kanaan and Wheldon and two by Franchitti. There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie among the drivers, which also includes Bryan Herta. The teams, except possibly for some crew personnel, will remain intact for 2005.

“You can see over the past couple of years how competitive the whole championship has gotten,” 1996 IRL co-champion Buzz Calkins said. “It’s more difficult now than at any time in the past to go out and defend the championship. He’ll have his hands full. But the advantage is he’ll be going back to the same team with most of the same personnel. With as many races as there are now and with adding road races – a little variety – he’ll definitely have a challenge in front of him.

“But you can see by the season he’s had that he’s probably up to it.”

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Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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