Sunday, July 9, 2023

Tony Kanaan on Indianapolis 500 Crowd, ‘These People Make me Feel Better’


Tony Kanaan climbs from the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet after finishing 16th in the 2023 Indianapolis 500 to close his open wheel racing career.
Tony Kanaan climbs from the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet after finishing 16th in the 2023 Indianapolis 500 to close his open wheel racing career. Photo courtesy of Matt Fraver/Penske Entertainment.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Kanaan vowed that he would not retire in front of empty grandstands after his initial IndyCar retirement announcement in January of 2020.

Following the pandemic, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner raced in front of empty grandstands in 2020, a limited crowd in 2021 and a full Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2022 before announcing that the 2023 Indianapolis 500 would be his final Indy car race.

Kanaan finished 16th, one spot behind longtime childhood friend and rival Helio Castroneves. While the end result was more disappointing than finishing third in 2022, Kanaan accepted that this was the end of his open wheel racing journey as he climbed from the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

“Last year, it was like, I think I can do it again,” Kanaan said. “This year, we knew, I knew it was it. So I think in a way in hindsight, okay, we had one, okay. But if I finished second or third, it was gonna be all over again. ‘Oh, how about’, so maybe that puts an end to it.”

In the pre-race festivities, Kanaan received a massive ovation from the near-capacity crowd at IMS. Whether it was the driver introductions or the film played to the throngs of spectators lining the two-and-a-half mile oval, no driver received louder cheers than the 2004 IndyCar Series champion.

“I mean, these people make me feel better,” Kanaan said. “That’s why I came back three years ago and I did it for them. And then I hope that they appreciate that. I hope they appreciate that. The time that I take every time trying to give my time for them.

“What they did for me today puts an end of me coming back here. Because that experience right there, I don’t think I will have it ever again.”

At the end of the race, Kanaan and Castroneves battled again like they did in the karting days in the late ’80s in Brazil. Castroneves got the upper hand on Kanaan in the extremely brief green flag period between the second and third red flags in the race. Kanaan never managed to get around the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

“I had a laugh,” Kanaan said. “Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead. It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other. And I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.'”

It’s very likely over 325,000 people dropped a tear because it was all over, too.

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