Kanaan wins speedy Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan spent much of his career trying to exorcise the demons that haunted him at the Brickyard. The Brazilian had victory within his grasp often only to have it snatched away by some sinister twist of fate.
This time, with a damaged right thumb throbbing over the final gut-wrenching laps, fate courted Kanaan as he captured the checkered flag under caution to win the 97th Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a cool, windy Sunday afternoon.
Kanaan, a sentimental favorite of an endearing crowd of nearly 250,000, wrestled the lead away from Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final restart in Turn 4 of Lap 197. Then, he cruised onto Victory Lane when Dario Franchitti of Chip Ganassi Racing slammed his No.10 Dallara-Honda into the wall in the short chute in Turn 1 with two laps to go to bring out the yellow flag.
Kanaan, who last year finished third behind CGR’s Franchitti and Scott Dixon, tucked in behind the pace car to cover the last five miles to the yard of bricks at the start-finish line.
“I felt from the get-go we had a great car,” Kanaan said. “I felt we had everything under control, but I thought that 11 times before.
“But the last lap was the longest lap of my life. I wanted the pace car to hurry up.”
“Life is funny. The yellow ended up being my best friend,” he added. “But I never had a doubt I could win this thing. Every year I didn’t win, the fan base grew. I guess they felt sorry for me.”
On a day when no lead was safe, Kanaan won with an average speed of 187.433 mph — the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history. Also, there were a record 14 different leaders and 68 lead changes — doubling the record set during last year’s race won by Franchitti.
Kanaan, piloting a Dallara-Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, outdueled three Andretti Autosport drivers — rookie Carlos Munoz, Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti — on the Lap 197 restart.
Then, with two laps to go, Franchitti crashed to secure Kanaan’s victory. It was an auspicious accident, considering the lead was changing hands almost routinely. And the Andretti trio was shadowing Kanaan’s rear wing before the caution.
“We were leading on that last restart,” said Hunter-Reay, the defending IndyCar Series champion. “I knew I was a sitting duck, and I wasn’t too bummed about it because I knew we had enough laps to get it going again and have a pass back.
“There was a crash in Turn 1, and the race ended.”
Kanaan, who hadn’t won since 2010, credited a good luck Olympic gold medal given him by former IndyCar driver Alex Zanardi, who became a paralympics champion after losing both legs in a horrific crash.
“I’m starting to think it really works,” Zanardi said. “I might put it up for sale.”
Michael Andretti, who endured enough bad luck of his own at the Brickyard as a driver, dropped his head as the yellow waved. He was left to settle for second (Munoz), third (Hunter-Reay) and fourth (Andretti).
“I thought I should win this thing,” said Munoz, who led 12 laps. “I really wanted to fight for the win.”
Justin Wilson finished ahead of three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and A.J. Allmendinger finished seventh in his first open-wheel race here after four Sprint Cup starts in the Brickyard 400.
Simon Pagenaud rallied over the final 20 laps to finish eighth. Charlie Kimball’s ninth-place finish was the best among CGR drivers. Ryan Briscoe was 12, Scott Dixon was 14th and Franchitti finished a distant 23rd.
“We didn’t take on tires on that last stop, and I did a 180 in the turn,” Franchitti said. “We came here to win and challenge, but the Target team was out to lunch today.”
Kanaan and owner Jimmy Vasser, a former Ganassi driver, were on top of their game throughout. Kanaan’s pit stops were flawless and he consistently outmaneuvered his challengers on the late restarts.
“I’m speechless,” Kanaan said. “This is it. I made it. I can finally put my ugly face on the trophy.”
Said Vasser, “(Kanaan) is just awesome in those (restart) situations. “He was great today.”
Kanaan positioned himself to win by stubbornly keeping pace with Hunter-Reay and Andretti. Hunter-Reay held a narrow lead over Kanaan before Graham Rahal crashed in Lap 194 to bring out the caution.
“I got a little luck today,” said Kanaan, who led 34 laps in a race that last just over 2 hours and 40 minutes. “It’s for the fans. It’s for my dad, who’s not here.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review fashion writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, email@example.com or via Twitter .