Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Tony Kanaan reflects on his own Indy 500 near misses after Pato O’Ward’s close call

By Vaseline May27,2024


INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan’s voice sounds battered. Beaten. Labored. The kind of raspy, low guttural sound that comes with defeat.

In so many ways, Arrow McLaren’s sporting director has been here countless times before, and yet, Kanaan admits, those impossible final three minutes where your driver trades the lead back and forth in a high-speed game of chess with an oval track wizard. , and all you can do is watch, listen and pray?

“I was a nervous mess,” Kanaan told IndyStar on Sunday night aboard his RV, as the 49-year-old vacillated between rubbing his fingers through his five o’clock shadow and his not-nearly-clean-shaven head. “Man those last five laps…”

Kanaan can’t find words for a moment.

“I think it’s part of being a rookie in this role. It is different.”

The new thing for Kanaan is this: his fiery Brazilian passion still burns like an oven: hot, steady and unceasing. And yet the recently retired IndyCar driver can’t quench his competitive thirst through on-track action and execution. He is merely a teacher, a mentor and perhaps for the next few days a lifeline to his inconsolable young Mexican phenom of a driver who has put himself in position with ten laps to go in the Indianapolis 500 three years in a row. And three times – all different and uniquely painful – Pato O’Ward was coerced by this living, breathing ‘creature’, who they say picks his winner every year to try to look forward to the next edition of this race, rather than the get a chance to celebrate and enjoy his achievements.

That we only survived on Sunday, after the mental game of a four-hour delay and the spate of early crashes and engine failures that left ten cars sidelined by the end of the race, is a testament to someone’s focus, preparation and courage. To have battled the last five laps like only one other car has, is all you could ever ask for.

“I know it hurts, and I told him what I went through, and I know it doesn’t justify or change anything, but I think it’s good to hear it from someone who went through it,” Kanaan said Sunday night. “That’s got to be easier than someone else saying, ‘Oh, you did a great job.’

“But it will haunt him and hurt him until he wins one.”

And Kanaan knows that because he lived it.

Doyel: Josef Newgarden defeats Pato O’Ward in stylish match for second straight Indy 500 win

After a crash in 28e As a 500 rookie in 2002, Kanaan started in the front two of his first eight visits to the Racing Capital of the World. He finished in the top 5 three times. Twice he finished on the podium and once he took second place. That race – the 2004 500 that allows Kanaan to play ‘what if’ twenty years later – still stings.

Last year’s disappointment for Kanaan and Arrow McLaren was a defeat in contrast to Sunday. It was one of unforced errors, combined with the feeling of victory multiple times in the last thirty laps – first with Felix Rosenqvist and then with O’Ward. The sting and scorn of regret was the theme of the loss for Team Penske and Josef Newgarden in 2023. This year, Kanaan said, in so many ways – namely execution over the 200 laps Sunday – O’Ward and Arrow McLaren were Newgarden and Penske’s is equal And also in some respects – namely speed – Arrow McLaren was one step behind.

Feeling like you did your best, and for whatever reason it wasn’t good enough, can be liberating in a way, Kanaan said. But when that near-flawless performance clashed with the black hat of a racing team and its poster boy, Kanaan couldn’t admit the result didn’t strike a chord.

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“I think they did a good job,” Kanaan said of Penske’s throttling of the field in May. “It hurts, but I hate sore losers. What they did (Team Penske’s push-to-pass scandal) doesn’t justify the other part in my opinion. I think they’ve done a great job here, and they’ve done their homework. They came prepared.

“I condemned their actions for that. I don’t think a single word (Newgarden) was said, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to take anything away. You separate the two things. One is what happened, and the other is that Josef is still a great racing driver – one of the best around. But do I still believe one word he said to this day? No, but that’s a thing of the past. That is behind us. Is it harder for me to cope with such a loss for them? Ehh, probably because of my opinion of the way they behaved, but this race has nothing to do with that.

On Newgarden’s last-lap pass for the win in Turn 3, having just been passed by O’Ward crossing the Yard of Bricks, Kanaan said he wasn’t that surprised – it was no secret that Team Penske had an advantage in raw speed across the field this month – because he liked the way O’Ward rolled the dice.

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Pato had to pass him there. He had no intention of passing on the straight,” Kanaan said. “Josef was just stronger. “I wasn’t surprised, I just hoped he could create a little bit bigger gap in Turn 1, but Josef was so tough all month.”

And so there is consolation, at least for the grizzled IndyCar veteran of Arrow McLaren, who will say goodbye on Sunday. Coming home in 2nd and 4th place, along with a resoundingly great debut (minus one pit stop approach) from the team’s high-profile newcomer, is more than any team can say. Of the four teams that ran at least four cars throughout the month, Arrow McLaren was the most consistent. While Sunday didn’t end with a milk-soaked firesuit for O’Ward and company, Kanaan said there’s no reason why this should hurt more than the rest.

‘Only two turns short.’ O’Ward heartbroken after finishing second in 2024 Indy 500

They hurt, he said, if you don’t win, and that can only be one team and one driver. And they hurt a little bit more when you walk away feeling like you left something on the table. After a string of years in which O’Ward perhaps didn’t try enough in the final round against eventual 500 winner Marcus Ericsson to secure his hopes of the 2022 regular season title before you could argue he won last year’s wanted too much, when he helped cause a crash with just two laps in eight lapsNL At the spot where the young Arrow McLaren driver seemed to thread the needle, just as you would want

Welcome to Indy’ Kanaan said with a sarcastic laugh.

“Outsiders will tell you this one should hurt the most, but actually it should hurt the least because we were there,” he continued. “The circumstances last year hurt a lot because we weren’t there to fight at the end, and so I don’t assume that, ‘Oh, this one hurts so much,’ because they all hurt. It is the nature of this breed.

“I have been here far too long and have experienced so many times that this place has hurt me. Really, it’s every year we haven’t won, and you always say, ‘Oh, that one hurt.’

The unfortunate truth, Kanaaan said from personal experience, is that Monday will be a tough day. “You wake up tomorrow and wish it was today,” Kanaan said Sunday night. “And then you wake up on Tuesday pissed off because you had to go to the banquet and relive it all.

“We came into tech after the race, and there’s this crazy TV that keeps playing (at the end of Sunday’s race) and I just turned it off. I couldn’t watch it. And I told him, ‘I’m not going to lie to you; it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt until you win one. But I have always used my bad results to make myself stronger.”

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