HEADLINES: Kanaan’s First Indy Car Triumph

Tony Kanaan, seen here in 2003, won his first Indy car race 20 years ago this week. (IndyCar photo)
Tony Kanaan, seen here in 2003, won his first Indy car race 20 years ago this week. (IndyCar photo)

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Tony Kanaan scored his first Indy car victory 20 years ago this week, during the CART U.S. 500 at Michigan Int’l Speedway. We look back at that 1999 race in this week’s edition of Torn From The Headlines.

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Tony Kanaan took his first Indy car victory in a thrilling finish to the U.S. 500 presented by Toyota on July 25 at Michigan Int’l Speedway.

Kanaan edged out Juan Pablo Montoya by .032 seconds after a wild last lap saw Max Papis run out of fuel going down the backstretch and Kanaan barely survive Montoya’s final-gasp charge.

The Brazilian only led seven of the 250 laps, but he was out in front for the most important one, if only by a nose at the finish line.

“It’s mine, we finally did it!” exclaimed Kanaan. “Mom, I did it! I didn’t crash this time. Finally!”

The war of attrition was slowed just three times by caution, but only 11 drivers ultimately reached the checkered flag. However, the final 67 laps went uninterrupted and featured a mix of strategy that led to the exciting finish.

Papis led the field back to green for the final restart of the day and was the dominant driver for much of the final stint, keeping his Bobby Rahal-owned No. 7 out in front for 38 consecutive laps before ducking down pit road for his final round of service with 30 to go.

Thanks to an alternate strategy, Kanaan had been able to run nearly seven laps longer than the rest of his rivals, elevating him up to second behind Papis when the cycle worked itself out.

Inside of 25 to go, Kanaan began to close up on Papis’s rear wing in the race for the lead, but Papis pulled away as Kanaan tried to move in and left the Forsythe driver to deal with Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Montoya and Jimmy Vasser.

Drafting together, Vasser and Montoya were able to pass Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy, and were closing in on Kanaan when Vasser had to pit for additional fuel due to a problem with his fuel rig discovered following his final pit stop.

That left Montoya alone in trying to chase Kanaan, but that battle for second ended up being the battle for the victory when Papis’ car began to sputter and slow coming off turn two on the final lap.

It was a moment that nearly left Kanaan in disbelief as he came back around to the checkered flag.

“I knew my luck had to turn around eventually, and it finally did in this one,” said a jubilant Kanaan in victory lane. “I lost my radio at lap number 10, so it was a long day to begin with, because we went a lap down. The car started to improve, though, and the track got better. The team did a great job and we never gave up.”

Montoya got a run on Kanaan coming to the start/finish line and ducked to the inside like an angry hornet, but came up just inches short of stealing the victory for team owner Chip Ganassi.

“When everything got so close at the end, I thought I had a chance,” Montoya lamented. “I was catching him really quickly. Every time we’d come into the pits, I’d be top three … and when we’d leave I’d be ninth or 10th. … I think Dario and Michael were the hardest to get by, but our car was strong all day.

“It just wasn’t our day here today.”

Tracy nipped Andretti for the final podium spot, with Franchitti completing the top five finishers.

Papis limped to the finish line, but finished a heartbreaking seventh after leading 143 of the 250 laps.

“On the last stop, our dash had gone out, so we didn’t know where the fuel meter was,” noted Forsythe team manager Tim Cindric. “We made a calculation based on what the tank said, ran it lean towards the end, but obviously fell one lap short. We went down on the fuel (number), but we didn’t think it would be that tight … or we would have gone down more. You just hate to lose one like that.”

Drivers who failed to finish included Team Penske teammates Alex Barron and Al Unser Jr., as well as Scott Pruett, Bryan Herta, Greg Moore, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves.

The finish:

Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy, Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Adrian Fernandez, Max Papis, Christian Fittipaldi, Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Dennis Vitolo, Richie Hearn, Al Unser Jr., Scott Pruett, Gualter Salles, P.J. Jones, Cristiano da Matta, Alex Barron, Roberto Moreno, Bryan Herta, Michel Jordain Jr., Mauricio Gugelmin, Greg Moore, Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves, Robby Gordon.