Tony Kanaan cherished every moment of his final Indianapolis 500 start, and his final race as an IndyCar Series driver – but reaffirmed he has no plans to reconsider his retirement after the race.
Kanaan summed up his feelings, saying he was “grateful, relieved, happy, sad at the same time.”
“There are so many emotions right now,” he added, “but one thing is for certain. I sat here three years ago, and I said I’m not retiring because I don’t want to race in an empty stand.”
Kanaan planned to retire from IndyCar after the 2020 season when he was driving for AJ Foyt. But he revised his plans after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic forced several races – including the Indianapolis 500 – to be held behind closed doors, with no spectators in attendance.
It didn’t sit right with Kanaan, who received a massive ovation from the crowd during pre-race driver introductions. “What [the fans] did for me today, puts an end of me coming back here,” he said. “Because that experience right there? I don’t think I will have it ever again.”
“These fans, they made me feel very special. I think I will take that forever.”
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“Anything apart from the win, we were going to celebrate regardless,” he said about his feeling going into this race. “I think I would do a disgrace to almost 400,000 people that were there that made me feel the way they did, to say I’m sad.”
Kanaan finished 16th during a race strewn with attrition and multiple accidents, a result he owes to never finding the right aerodynamic balance at any stage during the race. “I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race and it was wrong. So it was just one of those days.”
But it did allow him the chance to race alongside his long-time friend Hélio Castroneves for one last time – to effectively close a significant chapter in the lives of two near-lifelong friends who both broke into American open-wheel racing 25 years ago, Kanaan as the reigning Indy Lights champion, and Castroneves as the runner-up.
“I had a laugh! Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead. It was like, ‘who’s playing pranks with us?’
“We both went side-by-side on the backstretch after the chequer and we saluted each other. I went up to him and said, ‘actually, I dropped a tear because of that,’ and he said, ‘I did, too!’ It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.
“We started in ’87, and on the last lap of the race, we’re actually battling. My last race in IndyCar, and we’re battling like it was for the lead. But I wouldn’t have it any different, neither did him.
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“We went side-by-side twice. A lot of memories came to my mind and I even said how ironic it is that we started together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.
“It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, the guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career. I was coming up here and he just said, ‘who am I going to look for on the times sheet when I come into the pits now?’ Because we always said that it didn’t matter.
“If I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay, and vice versa. It was pretty cool.”
Kanaan’s career highlight came in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he claimed an emotional victory in his 12th attempt to win the race. He won the 2004 IndyCar championship title, and amassed 17 career victories and 15 poles across 389 career starts from his 1998 debut in the CART IndyCar series to 2023. Outside of IndyCar, Kanaan also won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2015, and competed at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.
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