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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Tony Kanaan
April 24, 2001


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone, and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is Tony Kanaan of Mo Nunn Racing, who owns Top-10 finishes in each of his first two starts of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. Good afternoon, Tony thanks for being with us today.

TONY KANAAN: Good afternoon, T.E., and it is always a pleasure to be here. Tony, the driver of the No. 55 Hollywood Honda Reynard is in his fourth season in the FedEx Championship Series, and his second with Mo Nunn Racing. He won the 1997 Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the 1998 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award, and he also owns one FedEx career Championship Series Victory at Michigan in 1999 and one career pole in Long Beach, also in 1999. Thus far this season, Tony has registered back-to-back finishes at the season-opener at Monterrey, Mexico and also at Long Beach. His top qualifying effort to date is third at Long Beach. Heading into Round 3 of the championship, Sunday's Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer at Texas Motor Speedway, Tony stands eighth in the championship with 12 points. The Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer Round 3 of the FedEx Championship Series will be telecast live on ESPN this Sunday, beginning at 3:00 PM Eastern time. And with that we will begin taking questions for Tony.

Q. First I would like to find out about -- get your thoughts about racing at Texas Speedway and what kind of challenges that presents?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I haven't been there, and I actually have watched the IRL races and all of the other races they did there, and I would say, you know, I think it's going to be a big crowd over there, good for us. Talking to some of the drivers that have tested there at the beginning of the year, they said it is a pretty easy racetrack. I mean, when we say easy it because we can go flat out pretty quick, and I think it's going to be a matter of having the best setup, and then definitely, in the race, you are going to need to be careful, because, you know, everybody is going to be drafting. You know, our series is so competitive that I don't think anybody is going to pull away and just, you know, give -- I don't know, two, three four 10s to anybody or to go two, three four miles an hour quicker or so. I would say I'm looking forward to go there. It's going to be a long race, especially, you know, for -- to be the first oval of the year, have a long race like that. I think, you know, everybody is going to need to be really prepared because usually, when you go to Michigan or Fontana, they are like -- you know, we had done a couple ovals or -- three, four or five ovals already. For Texas, it is going to be more, I would say, the guy who is going to use his head to save the equipment because the track is really fast. So going flat out, you are going to really lean on the engine and on the car. So the smart guy to save the car and arrive to the finish, I think, definitely is going to have a good result.

Q. Has your team been able to run any computer simulations of the track for the purposes of trying to figure out your setup? I know Team Penske has done that. I wonder if you have been able to do the same thing?

TONY KANAAN: No, we haven't. But everybody had access to Kenny Brack's data from last year and the tests that he did there. What we did, we based our car as, you know, a Super Speedway setup, and I haven't done any tests on the ovals this year yet; so we had to go for what we had last year. And I would say, we have plenty of time. It's not a track that you want to run around all day in because, you know, you can get really in trouble or, you know, really use your equipment doing the whole weekend, and you need to save it for the race. So I think we have plenty of time on Friday and Saturday to get set up together. And the team -- the team is pretty strong about giving me a good car right out of the box. Alex is a big plus on that team with his experiences, as well. You know, I give my best to help him and help the guys at the same time, I think, you know, I hope we're not going to have any major problems over there.

Q. Do you feel that your win at Michigan in 1999 will help you at this Texas event?

TONY KANAAN: I hope so. That's my only win so far, and I really had a good car over there. But for me, I think definitely some oval experiences is definitely important, but there is a lot of people with a lot more experience than I have, and a lot of people in flat. So that's what we are going to have to be careful. I would say, yes, I feel confident going to Super Speedway. I like to race on Super Speedways, and that's where I had my success. I would say you definitely have to have a good car; otherwise, there is no way you can win or you can finish well, not having a car and a team behind you. So I would say the driver, it's 50 percent; and the other 50, it's up to the team, because the if the setup is not right, there's nothing you can do, especially on the oval.

Q. You looked great sleeping in the movie "Driven"?

TONY KANAAN: You like it? I think I'm going to win the Support Actor so you guys are going to see me in the Oscar next year.

Q. I expect that. You looked very good. With the series moving away from the smaller ovals like Gateway and this will be the last year in Nazareth and going towards the bigger ovals like in Germany, England and now in Texas, is that going to be a part of champ car racing, you're going to miss -- Milwaukee is still there. Did you enjoy those short ovals or are you kind of happy that they are going away?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I would say -- not being against the racetracks. I think ovals are a fun race for the public, for the people that go watch, because you have action all the time. But for us, it's tough. I really -- I don't like it, but it's not something that they say -- I don't hate it. I just, you know, you have your preference, and I think definitely, you know, I like more the big ovals than the short ovals. You know, when you have a good car like I had last year, I had pretty good runs at the short ovals like Nazareth, Milwaukee and Chicago; I was really strong in Chicago. And when the car is good, it's fun. But those ovals are so complicated to put the setup together, maybe that's why I'm being very honest. When you don't get it, it's nothing that you can do, and then it becomes a nightmare. You can't wait for the race to finish. I would say, you know, we need the short ovals, but definitely, I'm not upset that some of them are going away.

Q. Would you feel more comfortable if the rules were a little different with the higher downforce wings and they changed it back to the way it used to be? I know you didn't race on a lot of those tracks with those kind of packages, but just from when what you know, would you feel more comfortable that way?

TONY KANAAN: I don't know. We need to think about safety, and right now, it's a big issue. In the CDA, we try to make it as safe as possible, which Mauricio and all the drivers are doing a good job, but it's always going to be dangerous. Definitely, as a driver's standpoint, I would like to have the downforce back, because you can feel the car. The car is not too free, but I guess that will increase a lot of the speeds and that will get us in trouble. So, it's a compromise, but downforce, I like that. That's what I ask my engineers all the time.

Q. Could you talk about your new teammate, Alex Zanardi? You guys are both very outgoing personality-wise, just wondering how you guys are hitting off this year? Are you guys having a good time together?

TONY KANAAN: Well, the results can only speak for themselves for him. Personal, you know, we've been good friends for a long time, since I was racing in Italy in '93. So that's been almost eight years. So, I've been good friends with his wife, as well. He was one of my racing heroes. So, it's pretty amazing, because, you know, I was really young when I went to Italy and he was in 3000 already. I said, "Oh, this guy," you know. And coincidence or not, I raced in the Formula 3 for the team that he raced in the past. So the Zanardi name was really alive on the team, and for me, it was somebody that I really appreciated. Then I got the opportunity to race against him in '98, and we got even closer when he left. We always spoke, and I went to his house at the end of the year of '98 and we had a lot of fun. So, between me and him, we are enjoying a lot. He's having a rough time right now with some bad luck and the coincidence of problems; that it's happening together. Sometimes it's out of his control. But for me it, was a big plus having me on the team on the technical side. Plus, it's always good to have a friend that is your teammate relationship. It's great that there's no jealousy. Of course, you know, when both of us put the helmet on, I think I want to beat him and he wants to beat me; so we want to beat everybody else. When I put that helmet on, I have 27 guys that -- I want to win, and it is not only my teammate. People say: Your teammate, it's the first guy that you want to beat, which I disagree. I think you have to beat everybody, not only one guy. But definitely, your teammate is your reference. And people drive different and people choose different ways for setup. So you really can't say we have the same car or teammates have the same car. Yeah, they have the same engine, same tires, same chassis, but it's all relevant. I would say Alex, I had a chance to learn a lot with him this winter. He made a change in Long Beach that put -- put me in the first place on that Friday, and that was him trying -- it was his idea. They did it and they came straight to my car and said, "Hey, we did this, do it because it's going to work." We drive a bit -- drive-style-wise, a bit similar, so a lot of the stuff that works for me works for him. That's the first time I have a teammate in my whole life, and I would say, hey, I always ask for the best. So I guess I have one of the best teammates that somebody could have. So now I think, you know, we're going to -- we're going to enjoy a lot this year and he will be -- he will be strong. I mean, he is the kind of guy that doesn't give up at all. So that's why I'm working out like crazy and trying to be fit, because I know he's going to be tough for me.

Q. Have you selected your bike from Cristiano yet?

TONY KANAAN: Actually good -- very good question. Because Cristiano has been very busy, as everyone knows, the Championship leader, the guy is so famous right now. He has a lot of interviews and all the girls are looking for him. Actually, he's been gone from Miami for a while, but we keep in touch by phone. I saw him today. I just took him to the airport. He was going to Nazareth today to do a Media Day over there. So, we were talking about that at lunch. Around noon, I dropped him off at the airport and I said, "Hey, what's the deal, you know, because I'm expecting to win Texas, so if you didn't pay my bicycle, I don't pay yours." Actually, he said, "No, go ahead and order it." There's a store here in Miami that we always buy the stuff. Actually, the first time I did one -- I got in the office before I called you guys, I called the bicycle shop and ordered my bike, so it should be here sometime next week.

Q. What are you ordering?

TONY KANAAN: It's -- they call it a Pinerelo. It is an Italian brand. It's a really expensive one so he can actually spend some of the prize money that he won. We had no limits in price. So I need to be prepared, because I know him, as soon as I win my first one, he's going to get -- he's going to want a pretty expensive bicycle, so I need to at least get -- I got what I want, so I'm happy. As you guys know, we live in Miami. We go work out together every day, every morning. Actually, my girlfriend was complaining about that because I got to see Cristiano more than I get to see her all the time. We race together, we work out together, we are really good friends. So this bet was like one day before the Championship starts, we are riding the bicycles, and we had a bet actually in '99. He was racing the Indy Lights and I said, "Cristiano, okay, if I win the" -- that was the beginning of the year. He didn't have a car yet. I said -- please don't feel sorry for him, because that wasn't the case that he didn't have money. He didn't want to spend any money; that's what it was. I said, "If I win the Fontana race, which was $1 million, I'll give you a Beetle, a Volkswagen Beetle." I ended up winning Michigan, which didn't give me the $1 million, so I didn't give him the car. And 2000 went by, and we had a bet: Every time somebody finished in the podium, we should buy a meal, and there's a big Brazilian restaurant here in Miami. So, we always have bets. So, I didn't have a great year last year, and he did have a couple winnings and a couple fortunes, and what I did, and so he bought me a lot of dinners last year. So this year, we said, "Well, what are we going to do this year?" I gave him the idea. I said: You know, we are looking for this bike all the time (inaudible) and I finally got one for myself -- and I said, "Okay, Cristiano, let's do this. As soon as one of us wins a race, the guy that wins, give the bicycle to the other with the prize money." So we go, by then, if we both win and we both get the bicycles, then we bet something else. So that bet was going on in January. So we get in the first race and he wins the race. So I pull right beside him in the cool-down lap. For you guys that watched the race, people thought I was celebrating for him in that, but actually I was celebrating to myself that I had won a bicycle. Of course, he has been my friend. I was happy to see him win in a new team and all that stuff, but I was happy because I won a $5,000 bicycle. So I got mine. Actually, I didn't get it get yet, but I will get mine. Hopefully I will get his pretty soon and soon we'll have to make a new bet, which is getting pretty expensive, because after you get a bicycle that costs five grand, I don't know what we are going to go for next. But that's the whole story.

Q. Will we see you and Cristiano do a little street racing around the paddock this year around Texas?

TONY KANAAN: Definitely, yeah. Because Morris, that stuff with bicycles -- Morris, what he did, he didn't bought us the scooters; he bought us bicycles. Actually in Mexico, Cristiano got there and they gave him a scooter, and he was going around the racetrack, because it was a new track, so we were trying to learn the circuit before the session starts the day before. And I pass him with my bicycle and I said, "Hey, man, see I'm working out more than you already, because I have my bicycle." So finally in Long Beach somebody gave him a bicycle. So maybe. But we keep that very healthy. I don't think in the race weekend we want to mess around. Plus, Billy, the guy that takes care around the paddock, he is a pretty madman. So he will give us a really hard time if he sees we are running around the paddock and running through the people.

Q. It's always been fun, particularly Michigan, after everybody leaves and you all were staying there, just a lot of fun to get with you guys and watch you all have fun together.

TONY KANAAN: Well, I think, you know, like we were talking the other day. The race is definitely the most important thing in my life, but it's not the only thing. So, you need to make friends. I spend more time racing than anything else in my life, and I think it has to be healthy. And I always say to people, you know, I love what I do, but I love to have fun. You have to have fun, as well, because do something like -- you know, I need to say thanks to God all the time to give me the opportunity to do what I love and to work and make money with what I love, but you have to enjoy it. But by the day that I find out I'm not enjoying any more, I definitely would try to find something else that makes me happy. But so for, I'm having, you know, a great time here and I have good friends, which is not only Cristiano. Definitely, we are the closest. He is -- I think, I would say he is my best friend right now, but I have good friends. Competition is healthy. Like I said, everybody wants to win, but at the end, you have to have friends, as well.

Q. Do you have any trepidation about this weekend racing on the steepest-bank track you have ever been on?

TONY KANAAN: I would say going to Dallas, Texas, is going to be with a lot of respect, and I'll try to do my best. I think my team can give me a good car. But we are going to have to be smart, especially on the race; it is a long race. You know, the only anything that I expect is to get out of there with some points, try to improve my position in the Championship after the tough year that I had last year and just collect points. When I'm going to have the chance to win, I definitely whether and if I have a chance to finish third, that's what I'm going to fight for. I think that's the way to approach it, especially the Championship here is so competitive now that you need to have points, and then you decide as the year goes by, you know, put ourselves in a position to win.

T.E. McHALE: I've got to tell you, I've heard Billy Camphousen (ph) called a number of things in my life, but I don't think I've ever heard him called a Madman.

TONY KANAAN: That's what I call him. One day he took my scooter key out and never gave it back and pushed the scooter all around the paddock. So finally I got the bicycle this year, so I'm like, "What are you going to do now. I don't have keys." "I'll take your pedals away." "It's going to give you too much work, man." I love him. He's just a nice guy. I give him a hard time, as he gives me, as well. So Madman, it is in a nice way. Nothing personal. We have a great relationship. Just, you know I think he has his rights and we are always rushing around -- especially, I think my PR is listening, so Les (ph) gives me too much work so I need to go from one truck to the other for an interview, so that's why we are rushing.

T.E. McHALE: I understand. And Billy sure does a great job. There's no question about that.

Q. I have a question about safety. You talked about CDA. Do you think the CDA is doing enough, or is there other things that they could be exploring?

TONY KANAAN: I would say everybody could do better. You always can do better. But we are doing enough of what we can. I think it was -- our issue has been with our spokesman, and we have been tied up with John Potter (ph) and CART. CART is helping us in a huge amount right now. Every request we have, they have done. The promoters, Long Beach, we requested a lot of stuff last year and I saw everything got done this year, and I'm really happy. Like I say, motor racing, it's always going to be dangerous, especially going the speeds that we go. But like the HANS device right now, it is mandatory for all of the ovals. And we made a few things that we want to change in Texas, and they changed it already. It's never going to be 100% safe, but we are doing our best. I think for the time we have, for the effort we are putting on between racing and debriefing and all this stuff, requesting stuff, I think, yeah, we have done whatever we could. I mean, anything can happen all the time. We pray for -- all the time to have a good race and nothing to happen to anybody, but that's the risk we take. I think that's why people appreciate racing, as well. We do something that not everybody can do. But, unfortunately, we have a lot of risks, but we are trying to minimize those. I think we have done everything we could so far.

Q. I'm going to get a chance to see "Driven" tonight. Can you tell me about it? Have you had a chance to see it yet?

TONY KANAAN: I was invited for the premiere, but my boss requested my appearance in the shop to talk to my guys, so I couldn't go. But, you know, you tell me if you like it or not. They ask me -- what happened was -- for the people that haven't seen the movie, they asked me, "Hey, we are doing a feature, what drivers do before the race." They said, "Moreno, he prays." Another guy -- I don't know what they do. They said, "What do you do?" I said, "I sleep." So my role in the movie, sleeping in the couch. That's all I do in the movie. But, you know, it's a beginning. Who knows, some big director in Hollywood sees me, says, "Hey, what a beautiful guy," which I think is really bad, but they do a lot of miracles with these cameras these day. Somebody said Cristiano saw it and thought I looked good. That's pretty impressive. That's my role in the movie, actually. But I think it's great for CART to have something that will promote racing. Tell me -- tell me what you think about my role, so if Morris fires me at the end of this year because I am not doing a good job, maybe I can find another job.

Q. You spent some time racing in Europe before heading to the States to compete. Do you ever think about you'd like to take part in a test, in a Formula 1 car, and do you follow that series at all?

TONY KANAAN: Well, being a Brazilian, we had a lot of Brazilian race car drivers that had success in F1. I would say my first -- my goal when I was little was to be in F1 and that's why I went to Europe. The opportunity came for me to come to America and I am really enjoying myself here, and I enjoy the series. I enjoy everything. For the driver's perspective, definitely, I would like to drive an F1 car, just to see what it feels like, because they have a lot of different things than us. I do follow the series. I do have a few good friends of mine that we grew up together; Ruben Forelco (ph) which is in Ferrari right now, yes, I do follow. I wish one day I could drive the car, but right now, I am really committed with CART, and I think I have a lot of business to finish here. All of the goals I set, I haven't accomplished yet. You know, never say never, but right now, to go there, especially with the way it is, it's only two or three teams that can win, and to go there to be only part of the grid, that's not my kind of racing. I want to know that at least I have the chance every week, and it's not going to a race and thinking at least I have a chance if seven cars break down, two guys spun off and it rains, and then I may be can get one point. That's not -- for me, it's not racing. I can't wake up in the morning thinking that I will be 15 already. I want to make up in the morning thinking that I have a chance to win, and we have this possibility in CART and we don't have that in F1. So right now, I am extremely happy where I am, and I don't want to go anywhere.

Q. You spoke about some goals. Could you name anything specific that you are aiming for, goals, as far as CART?

TONY KANAAN: Definitely be a champion. That's the biggest one. But right now, it's build my team up. We started that a year ago with Morris and been there ever since. I really want to give those guys a win. That's the first goal. And then, you know, go for the championship. I don't know -- you know, we definitely are strong this year. If we have the chance, I will do it, but we are building it up. That's only the second year of the team and we are growing every time. So, my goal is to give my guys what they deserve, to give Morris the success that he always expects. He had a lot, and it will be so hard to give something different for the guy. I think that what I can give him different is -- I guess in F1, he never won a race with his own team, and in CART he never won a race, yet, with his own team. So, I definitely want to be the first guy to give that to him.

Q. When you win your next race, are you going to do the same thing like you did at Michigan, wave both arms in the air, look like you are ready to jump out of the seat during the cool-down lap?

TONY KANAAN: I don't know, man, that was something that -- I only realized that after the race. That's something that comes naturally. Definitely, I'm not going to climb on the fence, that's for sure. I can't do that, because that's my teammate's brand; so I need to find something else. I don't know, I think I need to see because -- I usually don't -- don't think about those kind of things. I think that they have to be natural. I will definitely celebrate a lot, I can assure you that. But what I'm going to do yet, I don't know yet. I asked actually Zanardi to give me a suggestion, what should I do. He said he will think about it, and -- but I have -- I haven't thought about it yet.

Q. Maybe we'll see it this week?

TONY KANAAN: If you see it and think I do something good, let me know.

Q. You've said that you have watched IRL races in Texas and they have probably been some of the best races at that Speedway, better than stock car racing even, because the cars race side-by-side. Are you expecting that also with your -- with CART's car, it's a different package, and I'm just wondering if you're seeing two- and three-wide racing all day long?

TONY KANAAN: I think so. You look at our Michigan and Fontana race, it's always been like that. So looking at the -- your track over there, it has more banking, so that gives us more grip around the corners. So that's why people can really actually run side-by-side more than we do in Fontana and Michigan. So definitely, I think you are going to see a lot. Side-by-side, I don't know if we are going to be able to follow people behind because of the downforce that we have and all of the different package that they build. When you are behind somebody, you really lose downforce. I think you guys are going to see one of the best races that we've ever had. If everybody respects each other -- we have the cars to be like actually even better than IRL, I would say, more competitive and a lot of side-by-side racing. So I would say -- and the from the driver standpoint, it's going to be a lot of fun and for the people who watch, as well. I hope that we can put a good show together.

T.E. McHALE: Tony, we want to thank you for a very entertaining half hour. Thank you for being with us this afternoon. Good luck in Texas this weekend and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you, T.E. And hopefully I will be welcomed back next week to talk to you. Every winner gets the chance to have a chat with you guys, so I'm going to try to be back next week.

T.E. McHALE: We'd love to have you. Hope it works out. Thanks again for being with us, and thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. Have a good week.



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