INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe the Brazilian buddies can duel once more at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
They’ve raced each other since childhood, but one of the most memorable showdowns between Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan decided the pole for the 2003 Indianapolis 500.
Castroneves was the two-time defending race winner. Kanaan, two races earlier, had celebrated his first win since joining the Verizon IndyCar Series after crossing over from CART competition. Flags were flapping from gusting winds during qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kanaan’s No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda posted a four-lap average speed of 231.006 mph. It would have won pole if not for Castroneves, whose No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Toyota averaged 231.725 mph.
“That was one of my proudest moments,” Castroneves said, after watching a video clip of the shootout during a tribute to the duo in Phoenix last month. “I remember I didn’t breathe for at least two laps.”
“I don’t have that problem,” Kanaan said, poking fun at the size of his nose as he often does. “I can do four laps without breathing.”
They’ve endured countless breathless moments in Indy car racing for two decades, hence the Phoenix event “Celebrating Legends: 20 Years of Legendary Driving.” Kanaan confessed he never thought both would succeed. They struck a deal that whoever made it would hire the other as a helmet polisher.
Their return to IMS this month seems more sentimental because it’s unknown how much longer the 42-year-olds both will race in the Indianapolis 500. But their affinity for Indianapolis is everlasting.
“It’s special,” Kanaan said of IMS. “It’s magical.”
Castroneves’ 227.377 mph speed was No. 1 in Miller Lite Carb Day practice Friday. He’ll start 19th today in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Kanaan was third on the speed chart at 226.757 mph. He will start seventh in his No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Castroneves has won three Indy 500s, but a series title has proven elusive. Kanaan won a 2004 series title and finally triumphed in the 2013 Indy 500.
“We’ve been talking about a lot, him and I, the 20 years, where we came from and how good of friends we’ve been since we were 11 years old,” Kanaan said Thursday. “If you had told me that story back then, this is what is going to happen with the two of us, I would have said: ‘You’re dreaming. This is a fiction.’
“I’ve never had high expectations for myself because I didn’t probably want to get disappointed. I always felt like if I did the job as best as I could and concentrate on the task at hand, it was by default OK.”
Kanaan grew up watching the Indy 500 and promised he would never step foot on the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway until he was driving in the race. He kept that promise and made his 500 debut in 2002.
They enjoyed starting alongside each other in the 2003 race and were still near the front at the end as Castroneves finished second and Kanaan third behind Team Penske winner Gil de Ferran – making it an all-Brazilian top three. Kanaan knows about close calls at Indy — he’s been a runner-up, third twice, fourth twice and fifth once.
“It’s either there or it’s not, and I had my fair share of not,” Kanaan said.
Castroneves is tied with Team Penske driver coach Rick Mears with 29 career wins, which ranks 12th on the all-time Indy car list. Kanaan has 17 career wins, tied for 23rd. Castroneves is making his 17th Indy 500 start today, Kanaan rolls off for the 16th time.
Wouldn’t it be something to see them dueling, once again, at the end?
“That would be great,” Castroneves said. “It would be awesome. It would be icing on the cake and super cool to have that.”
“He will never beat me by a nose, I can assure you of that,” Kanaan said, again referring to his trademark schnoz. “We’ll see what’s going to happen, but we have a great story. If that’s what’s going to happen, that’s one more thing to add to the life story.”
Coverage of today’s iconic 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile oval begins at 11 a.m. ET on ABC (including WatchESPN) and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.