Monday , September 25 2023

‘We cried on the grid’: Emotional ending for racing legend

Tony Kanaan couldn’t hold back tears as the reality set in. With lap 200 of this year’s Indianapolis 500 in the books, his racing career was complete. 

It ended the way it began, racing wheel-to-wheel with countryman Helio Castroneves.

The pair were kart racing rivals as children in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte and teammates when they began racing in the United States.

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In 1996, Kanaan and Castroneves raced together under the Tasman Motorsports banner in the then-known Indy Lights, one rung below IndyCar.

Kanaan won the title in 1997 while Castroneves finished runner-up. A year later, they both graduated to the big time, albeit with different teams.

Although they’ve both been on the IndyCar grid every season in the 24 years since, they never reunited as teammates again.

“That’s what’s ironic,” said Kanaan, now 48. 

“We started it in ’87 and 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 to him.

“The last restart. We went side-by-side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend, my reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me – I was coming up here and he just said, ‘Who am I going to look on the timesheet when I come into the pits now?’ 

“We always said that it didn’t matter if I was — 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa. Yeah, it was pretty cool.”

Kanaan’s retirement was somewhat overdue. He had planned for 2020 to be his final full season, but the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that.

Saying farewell at the Indianapolis 500 in front of an empty grandstand wasn’t an option either.

Finally, three years after initially announcing his impending departure, Kanaan made it official. The 107th running of the Indianapolis was to be his last.

It was an emotional rollercoaster for the Brazilian-born fan favourite, who held back tears as the crowd roared during driver introductions.

Having begun his career alongside Castroneves, it was rather fitting then that they battled in the closing laps of this year’s race.

“I told the guys before we started, it was either going to be a win or anything apart from the win we were going to celebrate regardless,” Kanaan explained.

“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. 

“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 with each other, and I just told him 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.”

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