Tony Kanaan retires from IndyCar after 2023 Indy 500

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Tony Kanaan has announced that this years Indianapolis 500 will be his final IndyCar race. The fan-favourite had already left full-time IndyCar-racing after two lacklustre seasons for AJ Foyt Enterprises, driving two oval-only seasons in 2020 and 2021. Last year he drove the #1 Chip Gannassi Racing Honda to a commendable 3rd place in the Indy 500, behind teammate Marcus Ericsson and teammate-to-be Patricio O’Ward.

Photo credit: Arrow-McLaren

“I come to America, and I spoke literally zero English. I had a piece of paper that Rubens had wrote for me. “I’m hungry” and the translation, “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Good morning”. Couple words that I could actually say it, which is the worst thing, because if I say good morning, you’re going to reply and then I’m not going to understand any. So it was. And then I meet Steve, right, Steve Horn, which is my mentor.”

TK made his debut in top level American open wheel racing for Tasman Motorsports in 1998, racking up the Rookie of the Year honours in that year’s CART-campaign. His first (and only) win came in next year’s U.S. 500, as an omen of things to come.

“I think I wasn’t very good in the ovals. But then I’ve learned a lot how to be patient and how to play the race. And it really, it’s funny, because the 1999 Michigan 500 was supposed to be -we’re fooling ourself- the replacement of this place, which we all knew. And I won that, but it didn’t feel like, you know, winning this.”

After his first one-off Indy 500 appearance in 2002 (for Mo Nunn Racing), he swapped to the rivalling Indy Racing League full-time in 2003, driving for Andretti Green Racing. The Brazilian native won his first IRL-race in the second race of the season at Phoenix, eventually ending fourth for the season. The next season he won three races and achieved eight additional podiums, wrapping up the title in the penultimate race in Fontana. After three more top 3 seasons he left Michael Andretti’s team for KV Racing Technology. In the meantime, Kanaan became known as the best driver to never win the Indy 500.

Photo credit: IndyCar

Bad luck seemed to follow him in the greatest race of all. Be it untouchable Penske’s, bad-timed cautions, bad-timed rain-shortages, or simply being not fast enough, there was always something that kept Tony from having a fair shot at the Borg-Warner Trophy. But in his third attempt for KV Racing everything fell in place. Passing Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead after a restart, Lady Luck finally smiled at him when Dario Franchitti crashed, causing the race to finish under yellow.

It was the same Franchitti he replaced next year at Chip Ganassi Racing, but his tenure at Ganassi brought him little fortune, and his final full-time years at AJ Foyt’s team even less so. So he retired from full-time IndyCar racing. He did however continue to race in Brazil’s stock car racing, and despite being committed to this and two other series, he says he has time to spare compared to running a full time IndyCar season. What he will do next year remains to be seen, but he’s always ready he says:

“Since the day I was born, my dad always told me: [when] you drive in a go-kart, you’ve gotta be physically and mentally ready to drive a Formula One, or an IndyCar. You never know when the opportunity is gonna come.”

Now he’s up for his final 500 for Arrow-McLaren, driving their fourth entry. Given O’Wards strong performance last year and the effort Zak Brown is putting into the team, don’t be surprised if we see Tony Kanaan with the milk again at the end of May.