By Michael Marot
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Kanaan is still getting accustomed to hearing his new title: Indianapolis 500 champion.
After dealing with so much bad luck and so many years of frustration at Indianapolis, who could blame the Brazilian driver for mistaking those words now being applied to his name?
“There’s nothing like winning at Indy, just ask Tony,” five-time Grand-Am champion Scott Pruett said during a conference call Tuesday.
“What?” Kanaan said.
“I said there’s nothing like winning at Indy, right Tony?” Pruett repeated.
“No. I mean, look at where I’m at. Look at the job I got by winning Indy,” Kanaan said.
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. It’s Kanaan’s first trip back since winning the 500.
“I got so lucky, my kid is on vacation with me this month from Brazil. This deal came up a week ago. Coincidentally he gets to be here,” Kanaan said. “He wasn’t here at the 500. He’s all excited. He’s never been to Indianapolis. It’s a great fit.”
It could be a bit for the 38-year-old veteran, too.
Though he’s started the last 12 Indy 500s, this will mark the first time he’s crossed the yard of bricks going from left to right and the first time he’s driven on the historic track’s much newer road course. And though he’s competed in sports cars previously, he’s never competed on Brickyard 400 weekend or in this version of racing — the Grand-Am Rolex Series.