Tony Kanaan isn’t headed for a 2023 Indianapolis 500 ride with Arrow McLaren SP – at least not yet. As recently as Tuesday this week, the 2013 winner of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was on the phone with the owner of his last two Indy 500 cars – Chip Ganassi – seeing where things stood with last year’s race winners.
Recent reports that Kanaan is signed, sealed and delivered to slide in alongside Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist in a 500-only car, Kanaan said, have certainly helped speed up other conversations. He told IndyStar Wednesday he’s spoken with Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, along with AMSP – but “nobody has said ‘Let’s do it.’”
Given McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown’s recent comments about preferring a veteran over, say, a NASCAR first-timer like Kyle Larson or Kyle Busch, the odds on favorite pointed to Kanaan, given Ryan Hunter-Reay is a contracted CGR driver and if Brown wanted his one-off driver of the last two years, Juan Pablo Montoya, there wouldn’t need to be all this uncertainty floating around. Outside Takuma Sato, who would require a Honda-powered 500 ride, Kanaan remains the only former winner still floating around the free agent pool that would fit the bill for an AMSP team that longs to win its first 500.
“Everybody still has questions,” Kanaan said. “And so do I, so that’s why it hasn’t come to a conclusion in any way, shape or form. The rumor is definitely not true that it’s signed and done. All I can say is I know I’ll be in the Indy 500. If I was a team owner, I would be my first pick, so I’m very confident it’s going to happen, but where? Honestly, right now, that’s what I’m waiting for.
“(After finishing 3rd in last May’s 500), I got asked right on the spot by a few important people if I wanted to do it again, but I’m not going to say I’ve been working on that ever since. You’ve got to wait for the championship to be over and who’s moving where. But could any team have come and said, ‘Hey, I want to lock you up and figure it out’? They could have, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
Could the 2023 Indy 500 be Kanaan’s last?
If and when something does come through, he continued, he recognizes it very well may be his last – but even that he’s not yet ready to commit to. Nearly three years after announcing his “Last Lap” campaign with AJ Foyt Racing, Kanaan realizes the irony that he’s run five IndyCar races – including a pair of 500s – since. Two years ago, around this time, he was content with his 19th-place finish – his worst in a car that’s finished the race in his 21 starts – being his final run around the famed 2.5-mile oval.
Putting pieces in place:Zak Brown’s raised questions but McLaren-ization of AMSP is nearly done
Imagine if he’d put his foot down and dug his heels in on that pandemic-ravaged 2020 IndyCar season being his final starts ever.
“As long as you just keep those decisions in your head, rather than putting your foot down, you can always change your mind,” Kanaan said. “Look at the opportunity I got – I almost won the thing! And if I’d passed that up and saw whoever was in the car finish 3rd, I would’ve been like, ‘Man, I could’ve done that.’
“I can say this probably will be the last one, but then if I go out and win it, what are we going to do? So I don’t want to call it anymore. It might be, but it might not.”
At this point, Kanaan says he’s around for as long as owners of competitive cars are interested in his talents, which clearly hasn’t waned at all, despite there being far fewer one-off Indy 500 rides to go around as the full-time field has grown in size and competitiveness. Along with his Brazilian countryman Helio Castroneves, Kanaan will turn 48 before the start of next year’s 500 – an age we’ve rarely seen athletes reach while still active, even in this series, in a couple decades. But Castroneves’ boss Mike Shank said recently he believes the four-time winner is good until he’s at least 50 – so, until after the 2025 500 that would give Castroneves 25 starts. Should Kanaan still be going then, he’ll have made 24 – a feat only AJ Foyt (35), Mario Andretti (29), Al Unser Sr. (27), Johnny Rutherford (24) and Gordon Johncock (24) have matched in the race’s history.
Something like that seems worthy of celebration – a send-off or formal farewell, even – but Kanaan says he’s not interested, because paving the way for something like that in early May puts him in a weird spot if he’s approached walking off pitlane again by a high-level team executive interested in picking his brain about another go.
He’d rather the opportunities come to him, and when the phone stops ringing, you’ll still no doubt find him back at IMS that following May with more time to take photos, sign autographs and thank well-wishers.
Indy 500 ride or not, Kanaan’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, what a shame that after all these years…’ It’s unfair to me to feel entitled to that,” he said. “I’m still going to be around the sport. I know people can debate and say, ‘Oh, we want to see you one last time!’ But come on, if you haven’t seen me yet? I’ve been around for 25 years.”