INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan is still getting accustomed to hearing his new title: Indianapolis 500 champion.
What the elusive Indy victory did for Kanaan’s profile cannot be measured by money or trophies alone.
It put him on center stage, giving him a chance to tell his story to the American public and show late-night television audiences the passion and humor that turned a foreign driver into one of Indianapolis’ fan favorites. It gave him an opportunity to honor a promise he made to his 6-year-old son, Leo, by handing him the Borg-Warner Trophy. And it helped him get back to his favorite venue sooner than anyone expected, so he could chase a historic second win at Indy in a car nobody dreamed he would drive.
On Thursday, for the first time, Kanaan hopped into a Grand-Am car and teamed up with Joey Hand to qualify 10th in Chip Ganassi’s No. 02 car.
Jordan Taylor earned his fourth straight Grand Am-Rolex Sports Car Series pole, turning a lap in 1 minute, 22.251 seconds at 110.909 mph on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.534-mile, 13-turn road circuit.
Thursday was Kanaan’s first trip back since winning the 500.
Though he’s started the last 12 Indy 500s, this will mark the first time Kanaan has crossed the yard of bricks going from left to right and the first time he has driven on the historic track’s much newer road course. And though he has competed in sports cars previously, he has never competed on Brickyard 400 weekend or in this version of racing – the Grand-Am Rolex Series.
The affiliation with Ganassi, which Kanaan says opened up because of the wrist injury to Ryan Briscoe, also has raised questions about his future in IndyCar. Next week, Kanaan officially becomes a free agent when his deal with KV Racing Technology expires and some believe Kanaan could be headed to Ganassi’s shop.
I’m in negotiations with KV right now. It’s not a secret that we need funding. We don’t have it yet at KV. Me and Jimmy (Vasser), we have an agreement until Aug. 1. I’m not going to go out there and shop around or offer myself. But after that, I need to look around, Kanaan said. I don’t want people to read into it because, really, there is nothing to it.
The good news is Kanaan will have plenty of support preparing for tonight’s race.
Besides having his family in town, Kanaan will get guidance from co-driver Hand and the two other Ganassi drivers, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.