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Kanaan wins Indy in 12th attempt

May 26, 2013


Photo courtesy Chevrolet

There’s going to be one big nose on the BorgWarner trophy that celebrates winners of the Indianapolis 500.

It took Tony Kanaan a dozen years and plenty of heartbreak along the way, but winning the 97th Indy 500 today made up for it all. Kanaan took the twin checkered flags under caution when 2012 winner Dario Franchitti got in the marbles in Turn 1 with only two laps to go. Kanaan had passed then-leader Ryan Hunter-Reay  after the penultimate caution ended on lap 197, as he, RHR and rookie Carlos Munoz went three-wide at the green, vying for the win.

Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD indyCar Series champion who finished every lap of every race in his title run – and took second place at Indy that year – led Munoz to the flags while reigning series champion Hunter-Reay finished third, all driving Chevrolet-powered Dallara DW12 racecars and using Firestone tires. Chevy driver Marco Andretti and Honda driver Justin Wilson rounded out the top five for his best finish here, while Helio Castroneves, rookie AJ Allmendinger (Chevy), Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball (Honda) and Chevy polesitter Ed Carpenter completed the top ten.

There were 26 cars still running at the close of the race, which saw a record 68 lead changes among 14 drivers. This was also the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history at an average speed of 187.433 mph, breaking the 1990 record of 185.981 mph set by Arie Luyendyk.

There were only five cautions of this 2-hour, 40-minute race and they occurred in batches. The first caution was for JR Hildebrand’s contact with the Turn 1 wall on the fourth lap, the second for Sebastian Saavedra’s Turn 4 contact on lap 35 and the third for Takuma Sato’s no-contact lap 56 spin in the second turn. Beyond that, green flag running ensued for 133 consecutive laps until the 194th, when Graham Rahal made contact with the second-turn wall and finally, for Franchitti’s wall smack on the 197th lap.

This was an extremely popular victory among the near 400,000 assembled for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. They wanted a good race – and they got one. Every time Kanaan took the lead in the 200-lap contest, the crowd seemed to will him forward. They cheered every single car he passed and celebrated every successful moment. No doubt they could be heard at the close – all the way to Terre Haute, nearly 77 miles away!

It wasn’t only the fans in the stands rooting for the Brazilian; 1963 winner Parnelli Jones, celebrating the 50th anniversary of that victory said to Kanaan, “I want you to win,” before the race began. “That was humbling,” Kanaan said, “to have a guy like Parnelli wanting you to win.” That he accomplished this feat with engineer Eric Cowdin, who worked with him at Tasman Motorsports in Firestone Indy Lights, way back in the day, is another aspect of the win that makes it special.

And here’s yet another: Kanaan met a woman nine years ago during a hospital visit in Indianapolis. She was 14 years old, had a stroke and was in a coma. “I had this thing that my Mom gave me, a kind of a necklace to protect me… I gave it to her. She survived and she is doing really well. We kept in touch,” Kanaan revealed. “She is doing really well and this year, four days ago, she showed up, gave me a letter with an envelope. I opened the letter and here it was. She said she had enough of luck in her life and she wanted to give it back to me to bring me luck.”

Luck. That’s the element that’s eluded Tony Kanaan for 11 of his Indianapolis 500 starts. Today, he had his Mom’s necklace, he had his old friend Alex Zanardi at the track and rubbed Zanardi’s 2012 ParaOlympics gold medal before he went to his race car and he had good friend and team co-owner Jimmy Vasser calling strategy for his race. “The 11 and the 12 haunt us all month (12 was Vasser’s signature car number when he drove). I think 1112 is going to be my number next year!”

This is the first win at Indy for the No. 11 and Kanaan’s will be the 100th face on the BorgWarner Trophy. “This place has always been special to me and I’m glad I can put my big nose on that trophy. I was extremely confident,” after prepping his car last Sunday, “but after 11 years I had no expectations of victory. I never doubt I could win this thing, but the yellows have happened to me so many times but today the yellow was my friend.”

By Anne Proffit


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