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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Tony Kanaan
June 2, 1998


T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Brenda. Good afternoon to everybody welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks again to all of you who have taken the time to join us today. And a special welcome to our guest this afternoon, driver Tony Kanaan of the Tasman Motor Sports group. Welcome Tony, and thanks for making time for us this afternoon.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Tony, the driver of the number 21 LCI Reynard Honda enters Sunday'S ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on the raceway at Belle Isle in second place in the Rookie of the Year standings with 21 points. His top finish in seven starts this season was fifth at Long Beach. I need to correction myself, he has 22 points. Sorry to short you, Tony. Anyway his top finish in seven starts this season was fifth at Long Beach. And earlier this year he became the first Fed Ex Championship Series rookie since Nigel Mansell in 1993 to collect three top 10 finishes, including sixth in Japan, fifth at Long Beach and ninth at Nazareth in his first four career starts. Tony also recorded back to back third place starts at Rio de Janeiro and Gateway International Raceway. He held the Rookie of the Year lead for five events before being passed by Helio Castro-Neves this past Sunday at the Milwaukee Mile. Entering The ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix, Tony trails Helio 28 points to 22 in the rookie standings. Tony is the 1997 PPG Dayton's Indy Lights Champion, and is a two-time winner at Belle Isle in Indy Lights competition in 1996 and again last year. His 22 points currently rank him 14th overall in the PPG Cup Points Race. The ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix round eight of the Fed Ex Championship Series will be televised live on ABC TV on Sunday beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. With that we will open it up for questions.

Q. Tony, Bobby Rahal of course is retiring this year, Andretti and Unser look like they may be slowing down a little bit, they might disagree with that. Where do you see yourself in the CART series, say in five years from now? Do you see yourself as a star? Do you see yourself taking over as one of the marquis drivers?

TONY KANAAN: For sure in five years I want to be probably like Michael Andretti. Like a very competitive guy. I think I am right now, but with a lot of experience -- I don't think we can replace them, nobody can replace Michael or Junior or Bobby or Mario, but I really wish I can do a good job. Probably in five years I want to be reigning Champion.

Q. Do you have any other aspirations beyond CART, such as Formula 1 or would you be happy to race here your whole career?

TONY KANAAN: No. I'm happy here. When things are going well it is like the racing cars, don't change. It is going very well for me. I am very happy. I am an American. I enjoy America. I love the CART Series, so I really don't want to change. If something good came up to be honest, I can't think about it, but right now I am very happy.

Q. I was talking to Helio last week and he mentioned he thought it would be a lot easier to make the transition from Lights to CART and that he was wrong in that feeling. And I was wondering how you have found the transition from Lights?

TONY KANAAN: I was wrong as well. He was my teammate and we had a lot of wishes together last year. Well, when we are going to get there, we are going to beat everybody. We are going to be the fastest guy all the time. Our first race we both crashed. We ran behind the top 15, and we figured out it was a lot harder. I agree with him, it's much harder than I thought. Everybody is in the same boat. Right now what we need to do is working very hard.

Q. Tony, you come with a good record as far as winning championships. Let's go back now. Let's not take this year. Let's go back to last year when you signed with Steve Horne. What did he tell you? Did he tell you if you were good he would make you a champion and move you up to CART? What did he tell you, because he's an expert on bringing up drivers?

TONY KANAAN: He is an expert, but he's very hard as well with me actually. We really have a very good relationship, but he never told me I'm good. He show me any different way, but he never really told me, "Man, you are very good" or something like that. I think it is his mentality to don't tell when you are good or not. He try to show you when you are wrong and where you can improve. But actually he show me he never said you are very good driver, but he prove to me he have a lot of trust in myself, on me. Because he sign me two years, '96 and '97 in Indy Lights and before Fontana where I won the championship, he told me, "Tony, it doesn't matter what happen. If you win the championship or not you are going to drive for me. It doesn't matter the championship now. So both guys, you and Helio fight for the championship. I trust in you and I want you in my team." That's the kind of trust. That's the kind of award he show me that I am good and capable to do the good work.

Q. Now that you still drive for him, has he kind of let up on you a little bit now that you are in the CART Fed Ex Championship?

TONY KANAAN: Like I said, we have a pretty good relationship. He is hard in the track because I'm a professional and he's professional. We need to work hard to win the race and to do our job. We understand each other very well. And actually, I'm learning. This year it is to learn. I am going to be the rookie until to the last race. So I am trying to learn. He has a lot of experience. Like you said, he bring up pretty good drivers, Bobby Rahal, Scott Pruett. What I need to do is try to learn most that I can with him.

Q. I always remember that last race in Fontana. I flew out to Los Angeles and saw that. It was probably the best Indy Lights race that I've ever seen.

TONY KANAAN: For you, for me it was the worst one.

Q. It didn't go too well, did it?

TONY KANAAN: No.

Q. As you start making the change now, the first races have been on the ovals. There has only been one road course. Now you are going to get to the rest of the season where there are only two ovals and the rest are road courses, do you have to change your strategy a little bit as you continue through this part of the season know where you start to get on a few more road courses?

TONY KANAAN: I'm very happy. I think I don't have enough experience in the ovals yet. I don't need to change anything. I need just keep doing what I was doing. And the road course I feel a lot more comfortable in the car. So I think now it's my time to do a good job. I think we had a pretty good first part of the season, the first seven races. And the ovals we had a couple of problems. In St. Louis we crashed pretty hard because we had a problem with the brakes. But I made a pretty good start two top 3s. We finished three top 10s. So we are there. It is like a soccer game. If you don't throw the ball, you are never going to score. We are very close. Like Steve Horne says to me last weekend, "Tony, don't worry. I know we are going to win, but I just don't know when."

Q. Have you had a chance to try out the new speedway wing that CART has introduced for the two mile ovals in Fontana and Michigan?

TONY KANAAN: No, actually not yet. I don't think we are going to have time to try that. But I know Gil was trying, Jimmy I think they can do a pretty good job for us. They have a lot more experience as well. I think they can help a lot more Reynard and everybody to put the good combination of wings together just try to see how the balance is with my car. But I think we are not going to have a problem with that. We are going to have a lot of practice in Michigan before the race so.

Q. Tony, let me ask you specifically about Belle Isle. What do you specifically like about the course and what is going to give you and Diane and Steve good confidence to bring that car into Victory Circle on Sunday?

TONY KANAAN: First of all I love the track. It is a very tough track. You need really drive around there. So that is why I like it. What is going to give us the confidence, I came from '96 and '97, I won both races in Detroit. So probably I have something special in Detroit. I really can't figure out what, but I can feel very comfortable with that. We did a pretty good winter test at Sebring, who has similar kind of pavement, concrete and asphalt together. I think we have a good car. We came from Long Beach where we did a pretty good race as well. That's what's going to give us a lot of confidence. I am pretty good with the track. I love the track. I think we have a good car. I don't think it's the perfect one or the best one, but we have a very competitive car. That can put us at the top ten. That's the goal for the qualifying and then go for it for the race.

Q. We in the media can sit back and talk about what a driver should do, where he should be at this point in his career, but really only the driver knows for sure where he thinks he should be. At this point in your career, where do you think you should be, are you there and just kind of like evaluate your career so far in CART?

TONY KANAAN: To be honest, I mean, I am right now -- I am where I should be. So we have a competitive car and we made a couple of mistakes. I am learning from these mistakes. And we are in the place I think you know I'm still 14 in the points, 22 points still a lot of races to go, so we can finish pretty good this championship. I remember '96, Zanardi first year, he never score a point and then he finished third in the championship, so that makes me happy. I am very friend of Alex, so he was telling me that last weekend when I had a pretty bad weekend. To be honest with you, I think I am in the place where I should be right now. Could be better, could be worse.

Q. In January or February you and I talked and you said one thing that concerned you were the pit stops?

TONY KANAAN: I remember that. But I said, well, when I am going to do one, it's going to be easy, and actually it's easy. We keep improving. I am improving myself coming in and going out as fast as I can and my mechanics improving. Right now I have another worry. The pits stops don't worry me anymore.

Q. What has been the toughest part of the learning curve?

TONY KANAAN: For sure it is the race in the ovals. It is a long race. It is a lot longer than Indy Lights. The car change a lot. The reaction of the car change a lot around the race. It is trying to understand -- we need to keep separate qualifying and race. So the qualifying we have a good car for two laps, but sometimes this kind of race is not the best one, so you have to think a lot and change your set up between the qualifying and the race and that's brand new for me. Because last year it never happened. At Indy Lights it is pretty consistent. It is a different car. So that's my biggest problem right now.

Q. Tony, how are you feeling?

TONY KANAAN: I'm stiff. I'm still stiff. My neck is still sore, but I think I'll be okay for Detroit.

Q. Do you feel better now than you did last weekend?

TONY KANAAN: Definitely. I was a little bit sore, but actually I think it has nothing to do with the problem we had over the weekend. Somebody said Tony is still sore and that's why he was starting last, but actually it's not like that. The doctor said you are okay. You are just sore. And actually when I was driving the car, I never felt the pain. But we really had the problem with the car last week. When I turn my head around, I still have a little pain, but it's very little right now. So I'll be okay in Detroit.

Q. Going into Detroit there have been some changes there. Have you had a chance to review them? Have you been to the track at all to see the other changes?

TONY KANAAN: No, I never. But I have a map. They just sent me a map of the new track. It looks very similar, just a bigger straight away, a couple different corners. The most important ones they didn't change. My secrets I still can keep that because they didn't change the corners.

T.E. McHALE: What we are going to do is open it up to general questions. If you wish to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone key pad to signal the operator. And we'll begin taking general questions right now.

Q. Tony, you raced in several different series, can you compare one to the other and how much CART is different from those?

TONY KANAAN: Let's start -- do you want to start at the beginning?

Q. Back at Formula 3.

TONY KANAAN: Formula 3 I think was the most difficult car I ever drove, because it is very much less horse power and too much down force. You cannot make a mistake, because if you have too much to lose or push, you can stop the car and it's very difficult to pick up the speed again. Then I move to Indy Lights bigger car, less down force a lot of horse powers, 400 horse powers. It was a completely different drive style. But actually I learn a lot more in the Indy Lights than the Formula 3 because you have a lot more horse power. It is very light in the high speed corners, so that was a big jump for me. Now in comparison with CART it was a very big jump, but I remember Steve said to me in my first time, "Tony, the Indy car, the Champ car is just a bigger Indy Light." And that's true, just a lot more horse powers, twice then I had last year. But you put the set up together and all the changes are pretty similar. I think he was right that the Champ cars were just a bigger Indy Light with a lot more horse power.

Q. Helio also mentioned he had a lot of help from Emerson, I was wondering if you had a mentor in this stage of your racing career and also how have the veterans received you in the CART series coming in as a rookie?

TONY KANAAN: First question, I wish I could have somebody like Emerson to teach me, but I never had. I always learned from myself and somebody who was on my team. I have a good teacher right now. I have Steve Horne, who never drove the Champ cars, but he has a lot of race experience. So I can learn a lot with him. And the second one, actually everybody, you know, was very open with me. I knew somebody like Zanardi, Jimmy from last year. But Bobby Rahal was a very open guy with me as well. They received me very good. Actually, I was surprised. I was very happy.

Q. In your discussion about Steve Horne, all through this conversation, conversations that you and I had, looking back in his career, Tony, it sounds to me like Steve becomes more than just a car owner?

TONY KANAAN: I think you are right. The first year in '96 until to the middle of June or July he was just a car owner. After that, he became a friend. And right now I don't know -- I cannot describe what -- I can't call him Dad because he's going to be pissed with me because he says he's not too old. I don't know. We have a pretty good relationship and he's a friend. He is a very good friend. He is my team owner but actually we have a lot of respect for each other.

He became one of my heroes.

Q. Why is he a hero?

TONY KANAAN: Because he teach me so well. I mean you can feel when a guy -- I mean he is a team owner, for sure he want me to do well because if I can't do well I am going to break his team up, but I can see he really likes me. He really wants to teach me how I can drive the car at some kind of different situations and difficult situations. But I can feel he teach me not just because he want me to do well with him, because he want me to grow up as well. He teach me like my Dad. I remember -- I lost my Dad ten years ago and I remember he was explaining to me about everything. He had the same kind of -- how can I say -- the same kind of love, let's say like that. Try to explain and try to make me learn quick and not -- and the easy way, not the painful way. So that's the way it is with me and him.

T.E. McHALE: We are going to wrap it up for today. Tony Kanaan, thanks for being our guest this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck in the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix coming up on Sunday on the raceway at Belle Isle.

TONY KANAAN: Thank you. Any time you need me I'm here.

T.E. McHALE: We appreciate that Tony.



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