Tony Kanaan’s offseason got a lot busier than he expected.
The 42-year-old Brazilian is about to enter his 20th season of Indy car racing and tested with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates two weeks ago at Sebring International Raceway. But instead of taking a vacation before the season kicks off on March 10-12 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Kanaan will be on track in other racing cars the next two weekends.
The 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner is joining six other INDYCAR drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi and Gabby Chaves) in this weekend’s Race Of Champions at Marlins Park in Miami. If that wasn’t enough, he is also set to pilot the No. 69 Ford GT in the Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside British drivers Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Having last competed in ROC in 2004, the 17-time Indy car winner will go up against some of the greatest drivers from around the world in one of the most anticipated events of the year that gathers INDYCAR, NASCAR, Formula One, rally and other drivers to compete individually and as teams in specially created vehicles on the temporary track inside the baseball stadium. This is the first time the event, begun in 1988, is being held in the United States.
“We have seven INDYCAR drivers there, so that tells you how tough the series is and how good of drivers we have,” Kanaan said Wednesday during INDYCAR Media Day in Indianapolis. “It's a great event. I've participated in that in 2004, and I think for exposure, it's a different kind of racing, but we keep putting the INDYCAR name out there.
“It's been a big buzz around Miami,” added Kanaan, who lives in South Florida, as do Castroneves, Chaves, Hunter-Reay and Montoya. “A lot of people are going to come watch, so I'm excited about that.”
Kanaan, who teamed with CGR teammate and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon to win the Rolex 24 endurance sports-car race at Daytona International Speedway in 2015, admitted he was looking at taking a vacation with his wife and sons, but the last-minute racing opportunities offered put a hold on those plans.
“Daytona, it was totally unexpected,” he said. “It's funny because I had actually said to my wife, ‘Hey, finally this year we're going to have the whole month of January to just do whatever we want,’ and she's like, ‘That's awesome,’ so we planned a vacation.
“My son Leo came from Brazil (to visit). Exactly two days after that, the Race Of Champions came up, which I said, ‘Honey, don't worry about it, it's just a Saturday and Sunday event, and we can still’ – and then the Daytona thing came up.
“(In) January, I already (have been) testing for five days. I had to go to Sebring for Indy car (testing) and then spent five more days in Daytona (in the sports car), then coming back at the end of the month for a week, so she's like, ‘Oh, that was a good way of putting that we had an easy month.’”
What made the sports car offer too good to refuse was the chance to drive one of the most historic and iconic cars in racing history, something Kanaan was “envious” of after witnessing a Ganassi entry co-piloted by fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sebastien Bourdais win its class last year in the Ford GT’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Dixon also drove another team Ford GT last year at Daytona and Le Mans.
“I'm excited. I mean, that car, the Ford GT, it has such a history in racing,” Kanaan said. “Of course, watching my teammates win the Le Mans last year, I was envious, jealous about what they did. So the opportunity came about with the WEC (World Endurance Championship) team and I'm excited.”
With the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule again open the week of this year’s Le Mans race, Kanaan is hoping to add yet another milestone to his already profound legacy.
“I've been working on (a deal for Le Mans),” Kanaan said. “I got the invitation to do Daytona and I kind of invited myself (to Le Mans) and said, ‘Hey, I'm free, we have a weekend off,’ so we'll see. But that's the goal definitely, I would love to.”
The Race Of Champions features practice Friday, individual competition Saturday and national team competition Sunday. Rolex 24 practice and qualifying takes place Jan. 26 with the 24-hour race beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET Jan. 28.