IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan will make his 100th series start this weekend, but his first on the sacred streets of Long Beach since falling onto the IRL side of US open-wheel racing's divisive twelve-year split.
The Brazilian burst onto the IndyCar scene with Andretti Green Racing in 2003, winning the pole for the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and then winning from the pole three weeks later at Phoenix International Raceway. The next season, he became the first series driver to complete every lap - all 3305 of them - and set a then-series record with 889 laps led on the way to the championship title.
He's been second or third in the championship standings in three of the following four years - punctuated by a sixth in 2006 - and will be making his 99th consecutive start - the leader among active IndyCar Series drivers - in Long Beach this weekend. Coming off a fifth place at St Petersburg in the 2009 season-opener a fortnight ago, Kanaan knows that a victory on the 1.968-mile Long Beach circuit this weekend – or at any of the remaining 16 events - will give him at least one win in seven consecutive seasons.
“It shows you that I'm getting old,” he joked.
Kanaan is not without success in Long Beach, having recorded his first podium finish there in his second race in Indy Lights in 1996, and won his first IndyCar pole there in 1999.
“I can't forget that one,” he said of the CART pole, “We had a problem with the gearbox on our primary car in the morning, so we switched to the back-up car and we were 0.5secs quicker. So, about ten minutes before qualifying, we decided to withdraw the primary car and take a chance with the back-upr. It was a gamble, but it paid off.
"I bet my engineers and the crew their wristwatches that I could do better than a 62.5 and I did. They all lost their watches.”
Kanaan hasn't grown out of friendly wagers in the intervening years either and has entered into a new bet with former AGR team-mate Dario Franchitti for the remainder of the 2009 season.
Franchitti, who won the IndyCar Series championship in 2007 with close-cropped hair, has agreed to trim his now full head of hair when he wins a race with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. In return, Kanaan, who favors a shaved head, will allow his hair to grow uncut from the time he wins a race until he wins again.
“The thing is, you guys have all seen me with a shaved head but you've never seen Tony with his full afro,” Franchitti wrote on his weekly blog, “When he lets his hair grow he's got the world's biggest 'fro - a giant disco afro at that. It's unreal. Looks like an oversized costume wig. I'm definitely going to go win this one.”