It’s been a season of long odds for Tony Kanaan, but he continues to defy them.
Entering this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi, the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion sits 113 points behind championship leader Simon Pagenaud. The reality is that Kanaan must be within 104 points after Sunday’s race to have a mathematical chance in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
It may appear bleak on the surface, but one thing is certain: Don’t ever count out Kanaan.
Father Time has yet to catch up with the 41-year-old Brazilian, who has scored just two podiums, but has enjoyed an average race finish of 7.8 this season, his best since 2008 (6.8).
The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet has flown under the radar for much of the season, like a coiled snake hiding in the grass waiting to strike.
That opportunity looks to finally be at Watkins Glen International, hosting a Verizon IndyCar Series race for the first time in six years.
Teams tested at the newly repaved 3.37-mile, 11-turn permanent road course, setting lightning-fast times that showcased the likelihood that the current track record, held by Ryan Briscoe at 1 minute, 28.1322 seconds (137.657 mph), will fall. That notion was solidified in Friday’s practice sessions, when all 22 cars ran laps well under Briscoe’s standard. Kanaan wound up fourth on the time chart with a lap of 1:23.1692 (145.871 mph), nearly five seconds better than the record.
The pace and conditions will make Sunday’s 60-lap race challenging and physical, something the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion believes plays right into his hands.
“I think it’s going to be extremely physical, which I kind of like because I think I prepare myself all the time for the most difficult races,” Kanaan said. “It’s going to be fast and tough to pass, so qualifying will be extremely important.
“It’s probably the most difficult track I’ve driven on in this car configuration, so it is going to be a very difficult weekend.”
The 17-time Indy car winner noted that solid finishes have pushed him up in the standings to third behind Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, but that he must win if there is any hope of seizing a second career title.
“It’s all or nothing,” Kanaan said. “To be honest, if we are going to win this thing (the championship) or have a shot, we’ve got to win (races).
“Consistency has been the key for my championship position, but when they say it is two races to go, it’s really three, because of double points at Sonoma. We need to keep doing what we are doing, but right now we’ve got to turn it up a notch and try to go win. We need to win.”
Chip Ganassi Racing Teams as an organization is used to rallying for the late-season comeback, having done so last season with four-time champion Scott Dixon. It’s a comeback that would not have been possible had Kanaan not passed Juan Pablo Montoya for fourth place late in the Sonoma finale, allowing Dixon to tie Montoya in points and secure the championship on the tiebreaker for most wins in the season.
It is that comeback by Dixon that Kanaan, the “Ironman of INDYCAR” looking to extend his record of consecutive starts to 264 on Sunday, wishes to emulate.
“If you are worried about winning, you don’t have to worry about anybody else because, once you have done that you have already beaten everybody,” Kanaan said. “That was the mentality that Scott had last year and right now I’ve got the same mentality.
“You know, we’re chasing people. They have to worry, not us. We are just going to go for it. We have nothing to lose and that’s the way I think. We have a good car. Last year, we finished one, three and four there (at Sonoma), so I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to accomplish something there.”
The memory of helping his teammate win the 2015 title still fresh in his mind, it sits as one of Kanaan’s favorite memories with CGRT.
“I would say last year when Scott won his championship (is one of my favorite memories), being able to contribute to that by us finishing fourth,” Kanaan said. “If we hadn’t taken that spot from Montoya, then Scott wouldn’t have won the championship. It’s very rewarding. Sometimes as a driver you have a tendency to be very selfish, but I was never like that with my teammates.
“That was a moment, for sure, that was a joy for me. If I couldn’t win it, I wanted him to.”
With the roles seemingly reversed this season, the possibility sits that a favor could be returned among teammates.
“He better,” Kanaan laughed, on if he expects Dixon to repay last year’s debt.
Practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi resumes at 11 a.m. ET today, with Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. Both will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with a same-day NBCSN qualifying telecast at 6 p.m. ET.
The long-awaited return of Indy car racing at The Glen comes Sunday. Coverage of the 60-lap race starts at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.