INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tony Kanaan could do without the Indiana winters and all those unforgettable heartaches in his favorite race.
Otherwise, Indianapolis seems like the perfect party spot. He met his wife here, raised his four children here, and now intends to write the final chapter of a long, storied and distinguished racing career here.
The 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion announced Wednesday he intends to make his 22nd — and final 500 start — in May before retiring from America’s top open-wheel series. He’ll drive the No. 66 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren.
“You’re never ready for this, but you’ve got to weigh your options,” he said during a 45-minute news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after making the initial announcement in a Twitter video. “I went from full-time to part-time (driver), you’re 48, you had a great career and as much as you don’t want to go, it’s there.”
The wildly popular Brazilian seemed more resolute than emotional as he explained the decision, perhaps because Kanaan has had some practice calling it a career.
In early 2020, he was in Indy when series officials unveiled a logo for what they billed as a five-race farewell tour dubbed Kanaan’s “Last Lap.” But when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the annual 500 from its traditional Memorial Day weekend spot into August and was run in front of no fans, Kanaan wanted another chance to properly say goodbye to the throngs of loyal fans.
So he returned in 2021 and then again in 2022, alongside new teammate and seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson with the powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing team. Kanaan revved up the crowd all month last May by qualifying sixth and finishing third to jump start a new debate about a 2023 return.
“Let’s be real here, if I hadn’t done what I did last year, it probably would have been my final one,” Kanaan said. “You go out and you fight for the lead, and you fight for the win until the last lap, then you’re on a high. People actually are demanding, ‘Why don’t you come back?’ Then you get an invitation from a very good team to do it.”
Kanaan couldn’t say no though he insists he’ll call it caputs after the scheduled May 28 race — win or lose.
If it is the end, Kanaan will celebrate a remarkable career that began in Brazil, took him to Columbus, Ohio, in 1996 with just a few English words scribbled on a sheet of paper to help him get acclimated to a new country and ended with him as one of the series’ top ambassadors and a staple for Indianapolis charities.
Kanaan didn’t just learn the native language, he won over Americans with his charismatic personality, aggressive driving, a penchant for winning with style and losing with grace.
He became the first IndyCar driver to complete every lap of every race during his series-championship winning 2004 season. He emerged as the series’ Ironman by starting a record 318 consecutive races and competing in triathlons. His mountain bike and nose became a fixture around Gasoline Alley, and winning 17 races, tied for 26th all-time, only added to his reputation.
But local fans also appreciated the way he handled his many Brickyard travails.
After winning 2005 the pole, he wound up eighth — the third of four straight of four consecutive top-eight finishes and behind three of his teammates. Two years later, Kanaan was leading when the race was red-flagged for rain then lost it with a spin — 10 laps before more arrived, allowing teammate Dario Franchitti to reach victory lane under yellow for the first of his three Indy wins. Kanaan faded to 12th.
He also finished fourth in 2011 and third in 2012 before finally shedding the title of leading the second-most laps of any non-winner at Indy in 2013, a win that brought the crowd to its feet and the emotions out of Kanaan as he took the traditional milk bath.
Since then, he’s had five more top-10s in the 500 and no other wins but Kanaan never really complained.
And now on a rival team of Ganassi’s, Kanaan will team up with 2015 Indy winner Alexander Rossi, 2020 series runner-up Pato O’Ward of Mexico and Swedish driver Felix Rosenqvist, with one last shot to join the two-time winner’s club. Kanaan couldn’t ask for anything more in his adopted hometown.
“No, I couldn’t imagine,” Kanaan said, reflecting on his career. “It’s been a great journey and a lot of people helped. I’m glad that I’m going out on my own terms.”
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