"I think only the win matters to us right now. We had a pretty consistent year, but I would say I needed a couple more wins during the season and for some reason that did not come. We could keep the consistency, but we would rather have a couple more wins than the consistency, but it was a tight championship for all of us if you take a look at it. I mean, I only won one race; the other guys won two and three races. So, definitely, the key for us was the consistency, and I am going for the win, I have no other choice." - Tony Kanaan

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing conference call for this week. Our first guest is Tony Kanaan. He drives the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. Tony finished third at California this past weekend and lies third in points with 460, just seven points out of first place. He has nine top-five finishes this season, which ties him, along with Helio Castroneves, for the most top-fives this year. Tony, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

T. Kanaan: Thank you, my pleasure.

K. Johnson: Throughout the season, you have had the goal of going for the race win, but if it is not there, going for the most points possible. In your position of trailing Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves by seven points in the championship, do you have the feeling that it is going to take a win at Texas to take the championship?

T. Kanaan: Definitely. I think only the win matters to us right now. We had a pretty consistent year, but I would say I needed a couple more wins during the season and for some reason that did not come. We could keep the consistency, but we would rather have a couple more wins than the consistency, but it was a tight championship for all of us if you take a look at it. I mean, I only won one race; the other guys won two and three races. So, definitely, the key for us was the consistency, and I am going for the win, I have no other choice.

K. Johnson: You mention consistency - nine top-fives, but down the stretch you have just had two top-fives over the last five outings. Can you place a finger on that?

T. Kanaan: Well, we had one race that it was a two-stop strategy, and we got in the wrong side of it. Another race, my fellow friend, (Tomas) Scheckter, took me out. And, there were different circumstances that happened that I think we were being really unfortunate. But, that is what made the championship so exciting, because if you look, I mean, both Helio and Scott had problems, as well, during the whole year and now they are tied, and I am third. So, unfortunately, we were strong in all of the races that we did not finish in the top five, but something happened. We had the DNF in Michigan, as well, so that all counts. But, I cannot keep wondering if I had finished, because if Scott had finished, as well, or if Helio had finished, it would be a lot different. So, it is just a matter of luck and we will see what is going to happen.

K. Johnson: Looking at the final race at Texas, you know, almost to a man, the drivers have said it really did not matter where you qualify, because in the IndyCar Series you can race, you can pass, you can go to the front. But, with the style of racing we always see at Texas Motor Speedway, is there, or will there be a premium placed on qualifying at the front and being ahead of the pack?

T. Kanaan: Well, obviously, we are going to concentrate on that, but I think the most important thing to do is win the race. But, I think the way that I am approaching this weekend, I mean, the Texas weekend is going to be qualify in the front and be in the front and lead most laps and win the race. That is what I am going to do. It is not that I am going to drive any different, but you are going to see me, probably, more aggressive in the sense of worrying about qualifying, working in qualifying. Then, as a racecar, I think we do have a good racecar. We need to find a little bit, but we are working on that. We are going to go to Texas this week to test and, hopefully, we can find some.

Q: Let's talk about the Texas race and the fact that the race itself is always so close. What will be going through your mind and, mentally, how will you prepare for this race?

T. Kanaan: Well, mentally, we have to be very strong and try to not take the pressure as a disadvantage, because we are all going to be under pressure and use that as an advantage. The way that I approach the race is like it is going to be a close race. You are not going to see people driving away from people, so we have to be patient and smart to be able to position yourself for the win at the end. And, the key to doing that is to be calm and that is what I am going to try to do, and the way that I am going to approach the weekend is aggressive, but being smart and calm.

Q: The Penske Team has always been so strong. Now, all of a sudden Sam (Hornish Jr.) has stuck his nose in it. Talk about his resurgence in the last two races.

T. Kanaan: Sam has been strong all year. If you look at it, he made the August race when they did not have the good engine. He was struggling a little bit, but he was giving us a couple of races that he showed us what he was capable to do. I think, I would say, I was talking about the guy the other day, and I think it has been good that he won the last two races, because he has been taking points away from Scott and Helio and, obviously, to win this championship is going to be hard for him. But, we have to watch him, you know he is a good driver, he has a good team, and he has done a very good job. We just need to keep up with him and then work hard.

Q: So, in a sense he has worked almost like a blocker for you?

T. Kanaan: Yes. I mean, he is helping me out, I would say, because, you know, if he had not won those two races and Scott had won both, because he finished second on those two, then Scott would be leading the championship by a pretty good advantage. So, I would say, you know, we need to watch him because he can still win and so, I would say, I will try to work with him and be there in the front.

Q: I am wondering, is there talk within the Andretti Green building there off of Zionsville Road in Indianapolis about whether Bryan (Herta) and Danny (Wheldon) become teammates, in the sense that they can help you in this championship because you have the best opportunity to bring home the biggest prize for the organization in your first year?

T. Kanaan: Well, of course, you know, if they can do anything to help me, they will in the sense of track position and trying to help me. It is like saving fuel in drafting. But, I do not see them doing anything silly to make me win the championship. I mean, the battle is between three guys, four guys and that is the way I want it to be. But, you know, let's say I need a couple of positions and they are able to help me out and then try to get me there.

I think we are going to try to work together. I mean, that is what Ganassi is going to do and that is what Penske is going to do. That is an advantage that we can have. But, the way that we are going to approach the weekend is we are all going to go for the win, all the three of us and the team. You know, obviously, the attention is on me right now, but I would say we are going to work together and see. It is so hard to predict what is going to happen in a race, especially in IRL, especially in Texas. So we can make any plans we want, but until we get down to the last lap, you do not know. So, it is really hard to talk about it, but I am pretty sure that if they can do anything to help me in a good way, they will.

Q: Tony, this is the first year for the organization. You guys are all working together for the first time. What would it say if Andretti Green were to win the IRL Championship and Dan Wheldon won the Rookie of the Year award?

T. Kanaan: It would be a perfect year, isn't it? And, we were meeting just before the '500'. So, I would say Danny has a pretty good chance to win the Rookie, and that is the goal. The goal is to go there to win the championship and make Dan Wheldon win the Rookie of the Year. Obviously, when I joined this team, we knew the capability, but we did not know how well we could do in the first year. Everybody is getting used to each other. You know, the team was not a new team, but it was a new name, new owner and all of the drivers are basically new, because Dario (Franchitti) left, unfortunately, for his accident and then we had three different drivers that never worked together before, and I think we have a pretty good chemistry between us. You know, we are going to try to do it.

Q: Just a last thing, Tony. I know, just from watching you guys do the photo op with the trophy the other day at Fontana, there seems to be, the five of you guys, there seems to be some kind of feelings there, or respect. I mean, how would you describe that? How was your relationship? I know you and Helio were close, but how has your relationship with the other guys changed or evolved or, hopefully, got better as a result of this intense competition you guys have had?

T. Kanaan: Well, I think the competition needs to be healthy. I would never take an unhealthy competition. I would never let that happen, because I do not think it is worth it. We are there for one thing, the best guy is going to win. Okay, if he has the best equipment or whatever, he is in a better team, or he is in a better day, or he is a better driver, but the bottom line is the five of us that are there are very good drivers. We work hard all year, that is why we put ourselves in that position. You know, on the racetrack we play clean and we respect each other because we know everybody's capability. Any single one of us is capable to win this Championship. So, the respect is mutual.

Obviously, between myself, Helio and Gil (de Ferran), we are a lot closer, so we have fun, we hang out together out of the racetrack. You know, every weekend off we have we go out on the boat, we make a barbeque, so it is a different relationship that not a lot of people have, and I appreciate that. I made good friends during this year's racing, and the racing is my life. I live and I smell and I eat tires and fuel everyday. So, if it is my life, you cannot just be by yourself in life, you have to have friends even if you are racing against them, even if motor racing is a very selfish sport and that is the way I approach it and I have good friends there and, obviously, I want to win this championship. But, you know, in a good way, being in a healthy relationship.

Q: Actually, I was going to ask, I will reverse the order of my questions. Are you planning to go out and see the Grand Prix this weekend?

T. Kanaan: Probably on Friday. I am testing Thursday in Texas, so on Friday I will probably be there. Saturday and Sunday, I might go to the beach. You know, the weather is so good here, but I will be watching on TV.

Q: And I wanted to ask you, what would it mean, you say how much racing is your life, how much would it mean to you to win the championship? How much have you been thinking about it now that it is closer to a possibility?

T. Kanaan: You try not to think about it, but, obviously, it is going to be a dream come true because, when I was little, I always wanted to do succeed and win championships. Through my career, thank God, I had a lot of success. I won a lot of championships in go-karts and in the single-seaters, too. So, now that I got to the top, that is the ultimately goal and that is what I want to do, that is what I worked all my life.

So, the way I approach it is I take one day at a time, and I don't know what I am going to do if I win this championship. I think I want it to be a surprise. I mean, I don't know my reaction, I don't know if I am going to cry, if I am going to laugh, if I am going to jump.

You know, people ask me what about if you win, what your victory celebration is going to be? I have no idea, but it is going to mean a lot to me, especially for Honda that has been with me for a long time and, you know, Michael, that put all the credit. I had a tough year last year, results-wise, and then having somebody to still believe in you. It is pretty hard these days, because the easiest thing to do is to dump the driver and get somebody else. So, I do not know, we maybe will throw a party in Miami and invite you guys, too.

Q: And, one last question, which is on a different subject. Are you surprised at all by Paul Tracy's success this season?

T. Kanaan: Not really. I think Tracy has always shown that he was very capable. I do not know, obviously, I would say from my point of view, the competition level is a little worse than last year. I am not taking any credit out of him. I think Paul is a superb driver, and when he changed teams he probably found himself in a better position and better chemistry and he is doing his job. I am not surprised, basically, and I think he has been. As much as I would like Bruno (Junqueira) to win this championship for Brazil, I think PT has the control in that one.

Q: This weekend, with the points being the way they are, you may need some help. Even if you win the race, you may need some help to get the championship. So, does that mean you are just going to go, you race the guys, or do you race for the win?

T. Kanaan: I race for the win. I mean, if I win, I bring the possibilities to myself to win the championship, I mean, by 80 percent and I cannot control what people do, you know, what they are doing in the race. So, where they are going to finish, it is going to be up to them. So, I am going to worry about winning and what is happening behind me. If it is going to fall down for me to win the championship, it is going to be, but the way I approach it is to win, win, win, that is it.

Q: And, I do not know how much detail you want to give, but do you have any bonus if you win the championship in your contract? Do you get a little extra in your pay envelope at the end of the week?

T. Kanaan: Yes, we do. I mean, we all have bonus even from the prize money of the race or the championship fund, but that, to me, is the least of my worries right now. Obviously, we all need to survive, but the biggest bonus is to get the trophy as mine. So, that for me means everything.

Q: It is like the ring, isn't it? In some of the stick and ball sports, some of the guys, the money is not as important as having the ring and being able to show it to guys like Helio and have a one up on him for the whole year.

T. Kanaan: Exactly. I mean, money, obviously, like I said, it is sometimes you have to have it, you need it to survive. But, things like that, like the ring, like a trophy, they are going to last forever and then it has a lot of meaning for you. You work all year and then you have that and then it is yours. It is only your name there, not everybody has one, only a few drivers, that is what it is all about. If I wanted the money, I mean, I probably would be doing something else, something safer, or working on an investment and things. Obviously, we want to make money, but that is not my goal, my goal is to get that trophy.

K. Johnson: Tony, a few minutes ago, you were commenting about the success that Dan Wheldon was having in his pursuit of the Rookie of the Year title. He enters the last race just four points shy of the top spot in that. Tell us a little bit about the focus of Andretti Green Racing. I mean, they have one car that can win the Series title, and then they have another car that is right there for the Rookie of the Year honours. You, obviously, cannot focus more on one than the other one.

T. Kanaan: Well, I mean that is why we work together. Everything that I have, Dan has, and so there is no, you know, a single advantage for me in that team. And, I think that is the way it should be. If you look at the last four races, two cars out of the three finished in the top five. Bryan had three top-threes and I just got another top-three, so one car, at least, was in the top three in the last four races, and that is amazing.

I mean, that tells you that we all have the same thing, there is no advantage there for one driver or the other, and we are all very capable and we work together all the time, every day, all day, communicating, exchanging setups, and then that is the secret of this team. That is why we are being, I think, so successful so quick, is just taking care of each other and helping each other to do well. So, we are going to keep doing that, and, I think, this is the best team I ever drove in terms of consistency and people treating each other as human beings and working together to achieve one goal without being selfish, just looking at the team, not just one driver, the team.

Q: Hey, Tony, first off, good to see that there is a great fight in the IRL this year for the championship. The second thing, out of the guys that are in the top five that have a chance to win, you are the lowest of the top five in laps led. How does that concern you as a driver?

T. Kanaan: It does not concern me, to be honest, because the only lap I want to lead is the last one. So, look at Scott and then look at Scheckter. I mean, he led probably more laps than anybody in the series, and he has not won a race, yet. So, it is all a matter of where you position yourself, and I think out of the 15 races we did, I led at least 13 of them at least one lap or so. I was looking at that the other day, but really, it does not matter, because I don't think that doesn't tell me that I was not strong enough because, sometimes, you position yourself not to lead. For instance, the last race I did not want to lead any single lap besides the last one, because we could save fuel. We could, you know, judge what all the other guys around you were doing and so that does not concern me at all.

Q: Now, Bryan was originally scheduled, obviously, to be here and you were not. What was the team's decision in having you to come to Texas this Thursday to test, and how important is this test going to be to setting you up for the finale on the 12th?

T. Kanaan: Well, the idea was just bring Bryan because, you know, testing on the Superspeedway, if something happened, you have an engine problem or an oil leak or anything like that, you can hurt yourself. Then talking to Kyle Moyer, my team manager, I said 'Look Kyle, I want to test. I think it is important for me.' And he goes 'Are you sure? I mean, let's not take any risks.' And I said, 'Look, right now it is not about, it is all about taking risks.' And so, that is why I decided to go test. We had a good car in the beginning of the year there. I finished second in the race, so let's see. I wanted to give it a try. Once I get in Texas, I don't want to say that weekend 'oh my God, I could be here,' and so, right now I go there, I test and when I come back and I say that was the last track I drove, I know what I did and so I am just taking one last pressure out of my mind.

Q: And, final question for you, obviously we have had pretty clean racing this year. How aggressive do you think people are going to be the last twenty laps at Texas?

T. Kanaan: I think you are going to see the same. Nobody is going to get crazy just because they are fighting for the championship. We all race, believe me. Every race we did, we fought like we are playing for this championship, because look, although if we had fought harder we could be ahead, so I do not think that anybody ever, ever took it easy in the last twenty laps for any race. So, you saw Sam in Nazareth, you saw them in the last race the way they finished, so everybody is racing very, very hard and we respect each other and I think Brian Barnhart (Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, IRL) has a lot of control on that side. I mean, you need to win clean. I mean, I would hate to win a championship taking somebody out, that is not the way to do it. So, we are going to race hard, but as hard as we did all the time.

Q: Tony, you remember a couple of years ago at Texas where they had to cancel a race because you guys were getting those nasty g-force effects on the high banks and everything, and you just were part of the fastest open-wheel race ever, over 200 miles an hour, on Sunday. Did you feel any effects from that? I know it was incredibly hot at Fontana, too, and smoggy and everything, but how did you feel, physically, when you got out of the car Sunday?

T. Kanaan: I felt fine. I mean, obviously, I put myself in that position working out every day and working out hard, but, I would say our cars are well made in a sense of it will not get as, I mean, that deal over there that year was just a bad decision from somebody that they didn't think about what the consequences could be. But, these cars are made to race on ovals, they are made to race in a banked track like that, and Fontana was just very hot. I was just a little bit dehydrated because we have a drink bottle in the car, but my water got extremely hot, so I told my guys that I had hot tea on. So, I could not drink a lot, but that was the only affect. But, after the race I had a couple gallons of water and I was fine.

Q: You know, at 200 miles, at 207 miles an hour and there was one caution flag, what does that say about the respect you guys all have for each other? Obviously, the driving skills of the guys, because you were in a situation at that speed, Tony, where if, God forbid, something happened, it would happen fast?

T. Kanaan: Exactly. I mean, we need to give a credit not just to the drivers, but to the teams as well and to the engine manufacturers, because nobody blew an engine, no bolt fell off of any car and the drivers respect each other. So, I think it is a combination of a good thing happening everywhere. It is a good series with good drivers, with very good teams and good engine manufacturers, and a good guy controlling the drivers, which is a big key. I give Brian all of the credit for that. He is the best guy I ever saw in the way of talking, and he has this approach that everybody respects him a lot, and not a lot of people have that around their series. So, it is a combination of a lot of things that made this successful. So, everybody is waiting for us to fail and then we are always succeeding. The way to do that is respecting each other and working together, everybody as a big, big group and that is what IRL has.

Q: Tony, just a last thing. To have the final race in the place where it is probably the best-attended IRL facility, you know the place is going to be packed, it was last year, it was when you guys were there in June. What does that add to the experience when you have a full house like that?

T. Kanaan: Wow, it is going to be like Indianapolis, and for me it is even better because it is 7-Eleven's hometown. I am going to have a lot of fans cheering for me and it just makes it more exciting. You know, we race for the fans, we race for them to watch us, we race for them to get excited with what we do. So, we are going to try to put on a good show, and for me, I mean, it is going to be the little butterfly in the stomach before the start when I see this place whole packed like Indianapolis, and you cannot see an empty seat on the grandstand, and when they announce your name the fans cheer you up. It is just, I mean, I cannot describe it, it is just, it is going to be awesome.

K. Johnson: Well Tony, again, we certainly appreciate you taking time out of your day to be with us and we wish you the best of luck in your pursuit of the championship.

T. Kanaan: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure and I am going to go grab lunch at 7-Eleven, now.

K. Johnson: Absolutely, thanks again.

T. Kanaan: Thank you.



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