ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At one time, Tony Kanaan was one of the star drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Fast and fearless, Kanaan is one of the most determined drivers in the series and won the 2004 IndyCar championship when he was driving for what was then known as Andretti Green Racing.
Kanaan continued to be a star in the series including last year when he drove to victory at Iowa Speedway for Andretti Autosport. He was a constant — a driver the series could always count on.
But shortly after the 2010 season ended, Kanaan’s longtime sponsor, 7Eleven, announced it was leaving the sport. By the end of October, team owner Michael Andretti announced Kanaan was leaving the team because without a big-time sponsor, Andretti couldn’t afford to keep Kanaan.
Two months later, Kanaan thought he had found a new home with former driver and fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran. The two joined forces a few days before Christmas and it looked like a good matchup. But by the end of February, Kanaan was once again out of a ride because he did not have a sponsor.
It wasn’t until March 21 that Kanaan landed a ride for the 2011 season and that was with team owner Jimmy Vasser at KV Racing. Six days later, Kanaan drove to an impressive third-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“Not bad for an old guy,” Kanaan joked. “It’s not even my first week on the job. I have never worked with all of the mechanics and I still don’t know all the names on the crew but I’m just glad to be here. It was a long, long road. It was probably the longest five months in my life. I had a job and lost a job twice without even driving a race car. So I guess it was pretty interesting.”
Team owner Jimmy Vasser was ecstatic not only with Kanaan’s third-place effort in their first race together but also Takuma Sato’s fifth-place finish.
“It was just a great day,” Vasser said. “In one week’s time to put a car on the track with a bunch of people he never knew and put it on the podium it makes me feel like I’ve found a good driver at Goodwill.”
Kanaan may have been picked up off the Bargain Rack, but he continues to have tremendous value in IndyCar racing.
“We really drove our own race,” Kanaan said. “I have to thank my sponsors and friends for stepping up at the last minute and coming through to make this happen. We drove a conservative race until five laps to go and then Simona de Silvestro was all over me. We chose to use the Firestone ‘Reds’ in the beginning and I knew that was going to hurt me a little bit at the end. We should have used the black tires in the second stint like they did because I knew she was going to be running hard at the end.
“But I am an old man and she is a young girl and I think the experience helped out today.”