Kanaan Delivers Special Victory In Indianapolis 500 For The Ages
In terms of competition, this was an Indianapolis 500 for the ages. There were 68 lead changes, doubling the previous race record. And the race was the fastest Indy 500 of all time with an average speed of 187.433 mph.
But in terms of storylines, it was an Indianapolis 500 for immortality. Popular, hard-luck driver Tony Kanaan finally shed his image as “best current driver to never win an Indy 500.”
Kanaan’s victory in the 97th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday was popular from the start to finish. Kanaan drew the loudest ovation from the huge crowd in driver introductions, and the fans roared during the final decisive moment when it was clear that Kanaan had finally won the Indy 500 for the first time in his career. The popular Brazilian driver became the 100th face that will be etched onto the Borg-Warner Trophy after winning this unique and unusual edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“It was just a good day,” Kanaan said. “I was extremely confident. But I think with the past 11 years, I've been through everything here, I had no expectations. I said, you know what, we do what we can, put ourselves in a good position.”
He did that in an incredible Indianapolis 500.
It was spectacular, it was sensational, it was stupendous, it was unprecedented – that is what makes the Indianapolis 500 the greatest race in the world because of the unexpected. Nobody had any idea who would win Sunday’s race, and that was obvious when Graham Rahal brought out the yellow flag after he did a full spin exiting the second turn, slid across the track and hit the outside wall on Lap 194. Kanaan was one of 19 drivers on the lead lap and running behind leader Ryan Hunter-Reay but in front of rookie Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson. When the green flag flew on Lap 198, there were three laps left to settle the Indianapolis 500 but in a race that featured so much passing, few expected it would go green all the way to the checkered flag.
Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Munoz went three-wide for the lead, and Kanaan muscled his way to the front in Turn 1. But when three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti went high in the first turn he crashed in the short chute and the yellow light came on for good. Franchitti could follow the pace car for the final laps and take the checkered flag just behind three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, who was driving the Pace Car.
Kanaan drove to victory in his 12th Indy 500 start and didn’t let torn ligaments in his right thumb keep him from his drive to victory.
“When it was six laps to go, went yellow, I wasn't in the lead, I said, ‘This might be the day, today might be the day, because I was in Ryan's position plenty of times,” Kanaan said. “I knew I had to get the lead on the restart because it could be a yellow, which happened to me plenty of times here, and it did.
“How life is funny. The yellow was my best friend.”
“I never had a doubt I could win this thing. I talked about it many times that I could do it or not, but this place is still going to be special. Today it worked.”
Last year’s 34 lead changes established a race record but that was doubled this year with 68. Green-flag racing lasted an astounding 133 straight laps from Lap 61 to 193 – the longest green-flag period in Indianapolis 500 history since caution-flag laps were recorded beginning in 1976. There were only five cautions for 21 laps in the 200-lap contest. After Team Penske rookie driver AJ Allmendinger led laps 98-111, Hunter-Reay was the only other driver from that point on that led more than five laps when he was in front for six.
“It was a chess game,” Kanaan said. “It's funny enough because I don't know how to play chess.”
Kanaan finished ahead of Munoz, who started and finished second and is virtually assured of winning the Chase Indianapolis 500 Rookie of Year Award at the Victory Celebration on Monday. Hunter-Reay finished third, ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, as the top-four positions were powered by Chevrolet engines.
Justin Wilson’s fifth-place finish for Dale Coyne Racing was the top Honda driver. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves finished sixth in his Chevrolet-powered car.
“The Shell V-Power/Pennzoil/Ultra was running smooth like a Swiss watch,” Castroneves said. “It was very nice. A lot of people (other drivers) behaved, so it was great. The race actually went really fast. Congrats to Tony (Kanaan). He got his win. It was well-deserved. He did a great job. It was a very safe race.
“I was just having issues with the (rev) limiter. I was trying to pass a lot of people, but unfortunately it was hitting the limiter. That was one of those things. My pit stops were awesome. Great job. Great weather. Awesome crowd. We finished top six, which is great championship-wise for points, and that is what we are looking for, as well. When you don’t win, you have to look on the positive side, and that is the championship.”
Allmendinger was seventh to give team owner Roger Penske two drivers in the top seven, and Simon Pagenaud finished eighth in a Honda. Charlie, Kimball, who early in the race was running last on the track, somehow battled back to finish ninth just ahead of this year’s Indy 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter.
Carpenter led the most laps of any driver when his Chevy was in front six times for 37 laps. Kanaan was next, leading 16 times for 34 laps followed by Andretti’s 15 for 31, Hunter-Reay’s 13 for 26 and Allmendinger’s three for 23.
The lead changes were wild and spectacular in a race that throughout the years has usually seen a dominant car. On Sunday, the field was as evenly matched as any Indy 500 in history.
“It was awesome running up front all day in Indianapolis, having the car to put you up front,” Hunter-Reay said. “I could just put it where I wanted to and pass when I wanted to. We were just kind of biding our time. That was a lot of fun running with my teammates. Carlos did a great job.
“The frustrating part is we were quick enough. I was leading by a bit of a margin there over TK or Marco. We had lap traffic coming up. I thought, ‘This is great, if we can get in lap traffic, I can distance myself because our car was great in traffic.’”
But those plans were foiled by the Rahal caution, which created a decisive race restart that proved victorious for Kanaan.
“Right as I was getting into the tow from the traffic, the yellow came,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were leading, and the rest is history. When you're up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer. Everybody comes on by.
“I'm actually happy we got third. I figured with that restart, being first, we would have been shuffled back to fourth or so. When I got through Turn 1, tucking in behind Carlos, I said: ‘You know what, this is perfect. We're third with four laps to go. I can bide my time, put myself into a position to fight for it at the end.’ But it never came because of the yellow came right back out. It's unfortunate.
“But I have to say I'm very happy for Tony Kanaan. He's done such a great job. He's a great champion. He's done a great job here his whole career. He's had plenty, I'm sure, of the days I've had. It feels good you get so close, and it doesn't work out.
“I’m very happy for him, very deserving. I’m just disappointed because I think the No. 1 DHL Chevy was probably the one to beat.”
The frantic portion of the race where there seemed to be a lead change every lap were too numerous to recap, but Kanaan’s quest to his first Indy 500 victory is not. From the first time he competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, he has been competitive. That has made him a fan favorite.
He rewarded those fans with a spectacular victory Sunday and even got some “feel-good” response from his rivals on the racetrack.
“TK is such a fan favorite,” Hunter-Reay said. “He's a great guy, a great teammate, great friend of mine. Yeah, absolutely, it's great to see him win it. If anybody is going to win it in the field, he's one of the few I'd like to see other than myself. So that's really cool just watching it.
“That's why this place is so special. I've wanted to win here since I was 6 years old. That's kind of what I'm thinking right now. Had the horse to get me there. We were riding strong today. Just didn't quite pan out.
“But that's what's racing's about. We'll come back hopefully and have another shot at it next year.”
Kanaan finally had his shot to finally put to rest his Indianapolis 500 adversity.
“First, I think we can prove that theory that says that nice guys don't win,” Kanaan said. “I guess we proved them wrong. Second, the 11 number never won here, so we made another history. Somebody told me that this morning. I didn't know if it was a negative or positive.
“This place, I've always said it, it's been special to me, and I meant that when I said that. I didn't have to win here. I said that out there. The fans, they actually spoiled me a little bit on my win. When I finished 11th here, starting dead last, I got out of the car and it was exactly the same.
“I already had felt a little bit, I hadn't drank the milk, kissed the bricks, but it means a lot to me, because so many people I can feel they wanted me to win. It's such a selfish thing to do because what are they getting from it? I'm the one that gets the trophy. If you can bring some joy to them, and I think the best thing was try to put an exciting race for them.
“I said it before the race, I believed that this win was more for people out there than for me. I wanted it all my life. But over the years, I was kind of OK with the fact that I may never have a chance to win it. Then I started coming back here. From day one, it catches me by surprise, I can't walk out there, I couldn't before, I don't know now, maybe it's going to get worse, the parade, everywhere, it's just unbelievable.
“It's nice. I think wins are important, trophies are really nice, but what I'm going to take forever, it's definitely this.”
Somewhere, someplace, Lloyd Ruby is smiling after the famed hard-luck driver of the 1960s and 1970s passed away two years ago. Looking down on Kanaan, Ruby probably liked what he witnessed on Sunday.
“It wasn't a pressure,” Kanaan said. “Again, it's so hard to win a race. It's even harder to pick a race to win. I'm glad I put myself out of that group and put myself in the other group. Before the race, it was very special. Parnelli Jones came to me and said, ‘I want you to win.’ I'm like, Whoa, all right. I've always admired the legends of this place. Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones. It starts to get into you. Then to have these people telling you they want you to win, it's awesome.
“I'm glad I'm on the other side and I can put my big nose on that trophy.”