After 11 seasons in IndyCar, Brazil’s Tony Kanaan had become his generation’s Michael Andretti: a top open-wheel driver whose likeness, somehow, was nowhere to be found on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Kanaan started 11th at Sunday’s race and spent most of the day’s 200 laps in the top 10, leading a total of 34 laps (second only to Ed Carpenter’s 37). Kanaan found himself in second when the caution flag came out on lap 187. When racing resumed 10 laps later Kanaan passed race-leader Ryan Hunter-Raey to take the lead with three laps remaining. When Dario Franchitti crashed shortly thereafter, and the caution flag came out once again, Kanaan was locked into the top spot.
Rookie Carlos Muñoz, who also passed Hunter-Raey during the brief restart, finished second. Hunter-Raey finished third. Marco Andretti (Michael’s son), who led 31 laps, finished fourth. Official race results are available here.
Before yesterday, Kanaan already had and impressive resume, including 15 IndyCar race wins and 90 top-five finishes. He’s finished in the top 10 of the final IndyCar standings every season since 2003 (his first full season with the series), finishing in the top five six times, and winning the IRL IndyCar championship in 2004.
But Kanaan couldn’t seem to win Indianapolis, the one race that matters more than all the others combined.
Much like Michael Andretti, Kanaan performed well in Indy but could never notch a win. As a rookie at Indianapolis in 2002 Kanaan led 23 laps before succumbing to mechanical problems. He finished third in 2003 and second in 2004, when rain forced the race crew to wave the checkered flag at the 450-mile mark.
In 2005, Kanaan started on the pole and led 54 laps, but finished eighth. He led the race with fewer than 20 laps remaining in 2006 but slipped to fourth during a late pit stop and never regained the lead. In 2010, car problems forced Kanaan to start from the 33rd spot (the last possible qualifying spot). He climbed all the way to second before running out of fuel and taking a pit stop on lap 196. Last year he led the race with six laps remaining but ended up finishing third.
Over the years circumstances have conspired to keep Tony Kanaan out of Victory Circle. This year they finally worked in his favor.