3 March 2012
How Kanaan got Rubens - and a 2-year deal
One story slightly lost in the glare of the announcement of Rubens Barrichello's signing for KV Racing was confirmation of Tony Kanaan's own new two-year deal.
This time a year ago, it looked like Tony Kanaan's racing career in IndyCars was finally over.
He'd been dropped by his long-time race team Andretti Autosports the previous autumn, and a deal to race for De Ferran Dragon Racing fell apart over a lack of financing. It was only five days before the 2011 season opener at St Petersburg that Kanaan finally landed a one-year berth at KV Racing Technology thanks to one of his oldest friends in the sport, Jimmy Vasser, who co-owns the team along with Kevin Kalkhoven.
"I think we had an eventful year last year!" recalled Kanaan. "I can't thank those guys enough for rescuing me five days before the first race. If it wasn't for Kevin and Jimmy and Mark [Johnson, team manager] and everybody's effort on their part [to pull the deal off] before the first race last year, this would never have happened."
Kanaan repaid Vasser's faith in him with an impressive season, even if it didn't always show in the team's overall race results. "We had a great year," he insisted. "I understand that it's probably not the year that we wanted to have, but it was a lot better than the way we started it."
Kanaan ended up in fifth place in the 2011 championship. So successful had the partnership been, that no one even noticed that there had been no confirmation about Kanaan re-signing with KV Racing - and it was by no means a slam dunk. The end of 2011 had finished under a terrible cloud, with Kanaan's close friend Dan Wheldon killed in a horrible accident in the season finale at Las Vegas; many wondered whether Kanaan could possibly bounce back from this and even want to carry on racing at all.
Then the buzz about Rubens Barrichello possibly coming to the team started up. The prospect rejuvenated Kanaan, and it rapidly became unthinkable that Tony wouldn't be right there alongside Rubens if the deal came off. Kanaan himself admitted that despite the lack of a public announcement about contracts, he never had any intention of going anywhere except right back into the cockpit of his KV Racing Dallara-Chevrolet - if he could ever prise Barrichello out of the seat, that is.
"I feel bad it looks like I left, but I would not let Kevin and Jimmy let me leave anyway," he said. "I was living in the shop for the past month to make sure that they wouldn't let me go!"
Whatever KV Racing are paying to re-sign him on the two-year deal announced on Thursday has been more than made up by Kanaan's pivotal role in bringing Barrichello to IndyCar. Quite simply, it was all down to him: without Kanaan it would never have happened.
"My part on Rubens's deal: I think Kevin was talking to me, and Rubens, but I think I set them up pretty bad," he grinned. "I was with Rubens when [Williams] kind of gave him the phone call that his deal was not going to happen at F1, and I said, 'Hey, why don't you test my car to help me out. It's a new car. With your experience, I think it's going to be great to have your feedback.'"
"I go to Kevin and Jimmy, and I said: 'Hey, he wants to race. He has a full sponsorship. He's ready to go. He just wants to give a couple laps in the car, and he'll make his decision,'" he continued.
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