Kanaan back on familiar ground at Road America


The Associated Press

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Tony Kanaan feels like a veteran again this weekend at Road America.

In France last week, the 42-year-old driver with 20 years of IndyCar experience was treated like a rookie.

Subbing for injured driver Sebastien Bourdais, Kanaan drove the No. 67 Ford GT for his Chip Ganassi Racing team and finished 6th in class in his first ride at the 24 Hours of Le Mans .

“Obviously at this point in my career, to be called a rookie was quite funny to be honest,” Kanaan said with a laugh.

He is on more familiar ground at Road America, which will host the 220-mile Kohler Grand Prix today.

Kanaan has made six starts at the rural Wisconsin road course, including three top-five finishes. He came in second to Will Power in the series’ return to the track last year.

No wonder this 14-turn course is one of Kanaan’s favorite stops on the schedule. Elevation changes and three intriguing straightaways add to the appeal. So do the impromptu trips for drivers into the campgrounds to interact with fans.

“It puts a smile on my face,” Kanaan said this week. “From the fans, to the racetrack itself and how fast it is, to the atmosphere … everything about it is fun.”

After a second-place finish two weeks ago at Texas, Kanaan hopes he can keep the momentum going at Road America. It was Kanaan’s second top-five finish in four races since the Indy 500 last month.

Kanaan is eighth in the points race entering this weekend, 63 points behind leader and teammate Scott Dixon.

“We had a very different beginning of the season for me. We had a couple misfortunes … I’ve been looking to turn the situation around. We’ve been doing that since Indy,” Kanaan said.

“Now is the time. We have the momentum, this is the time and we have good experience on this track,” Kanaan added.

It is a course that drivers say provides enjoyable challenges that differ from the kind of neck-and-neck racing often found at ovals like Texas.

“It’s definitely a challenging track, but I think that everybody enjoys this race,” Helio Castroneves said Saturday before qualifying.

Road America will be the first IndyCar race since the tumultuous Texas stop on June 10. Kanaan got blamed — and penalized — for a big wreck before he recovered from being two laps down to get his fifth runner-up finish in Texas.

Kanaan apologized after the race.

“Yeah I think you move on pretty quickly in this sport,” Power, who won at Texas, said when asked if any hard feelings lingered among drivers in the paddock.

Kanaan, who has earned the nickname “Ironman,” is primed to make his 275th consecutive start, a streak that dates to the 2001 race at Portland.

His team was working on issues with setup on its No. 10 Honda during practice this weekend. He will start in a season-low 16th position following a disappointing qualifying session on Saturday, proving a different wrinkle for Kanaan as he tries to build on his previous success at Road America.

As for Le Mans , he wouldn’t mind making another trip back to France, though preferably under different circumstances.

“Definitely want to do it again if the opportunity comes up for sure,” Kanaan said. But “no desire to take [Bourdais’] place at all.”

By Paul Wager

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