ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – First question: How did you come up with the idea to brand your 20th year in Indy car racing? Answer: To keep people from asking me when I’m going to retire.
Second question: When are you going to retire?
Tony Kanaan officially kicked off TK20 – a personally branded celebration of his 20th season racing Indy cars – with a raucous, comical press conference before the start of qualifying Saturday for the Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Kanaan, who started in the top level of North American open-wheel racing in 1998 with Tasman Motorsports, launched the TK20 campaign – complete with its own logo that reflects the paint scheme on his helmet – to put a bow on a long career without marking its end.
“It was to celebrate the 20th year, but also to get away from the question of when I’m going to retire,” Kanaan said. “It’s more of a celebration and moving away from (the question of retirement), really.”
So, then, when are you retiring?
“I’m not ready yet,” said Kanaan, now 42. “In my mind, I’m still very young. I take care of myself a lot. I’m still in the game. I think I had a decent season last year despite not getting a win. As long as I feel this way, I’m going to keep going.”
His former teammate and team owner, Michael Andretti, whose driving career lasted 23 years, understands what Kanaan and 41-year-old Helio Castroneves, also celebrating the start of his 20th season in Indy car racing, are experiencing.
“I know where they’re at,” Andretti said. “Had I not had the team (to run), I could have gone another three years and still been strong. I see those guys the same way. I can see them going (to age) 43, 44 and still being good. As long as they can keep their physical side up, which they are, they’ll be good. As long as they’re still excited to get to the racetrack, they’re still going to be competitive.”
Kanaan’s lively chat in the St. Pete media center covered topics as wide-ranging as young drivers (“eventually we need to give a chance to the young guys”) to racing until he’s 50 (“no”) to longtime friend Castroneves (“his hair products are like his setups, still a mystery.”)
A fitness buff who uses the three elements of triathlons – running, biking, swimming – to stay fit, says he can see racing full-time a few more years before taking on a part-time role.
“As soon as my belly starts to touch the steering wheel, I’ll retire,” Kanaan said. “Ideally, I’d say a couple more years.”
Kanaan has 17 victories, the 2004 championship and the 2013 Indianapolis 500 to his credit. The Indy victory is his favorite for reasons of size; his team at the time, KV Racing Technology co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, which folded during the past offseason, was a small operation compared with his current team, four-car Chip Ganassi Racing.
“We won the biggest race in the world, and nobody believed it,” Kanaan said. “It’s just different. It’s a different atmosphere. The pressure is completely different. We had one truck (at KVRT). Now I walk through six trucks every weekend. To go to the bathroom, I don’t even need to leave the truck. With Jimmy, we had to walk. We barely had a scooter.”
Kanaan will start sixth in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda for today’s 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit. Kanaan has driven in 12 of the previous 13 St. Petersburg races, with a best finish of second in his first try in 2005.
The race airs live at noon ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (available on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app).
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.