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IndyCar Indy 500

Kanaan on IndyCar exit: “I'll miss it every day of my life”

Tony Kanaan says he expects he will miss IndyCar racing "every day of my life" after announcing plans to retire from the US open-wheel series after this year's Indianapolis 500.

Tony Kanaan poses for photos after winning the 2013 Indy 500

The 2004 IRL IndyCar champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner revealed on Wednesday that he would call time on his Indy career for good after contesting oval-only schedules since 2020.

He had planned to step away at the end of 2020, only for the pandemic to wreck his planned farewell tour.

The 48-year-old Brazilian will bow out after contesting his 390th and final IndyCar race in May's Indy 500 with Arrow McLaren.

Kanaan, who has accumulated 17 wins and 11 pole positions since making his debut in 1998, plans to explore opportunities in sportscars but doesn't yet have any plans beyond this year, stating “2024 is wide open right now”.

PLUS: Ranking the 10 greatest drives of a modern Indycar hero

Asked how he felt about his decision to step away from IndyCar, he admitted that it felt “kind of weird” and said he only realised the gravity of it after the news broke on social media. 

“My phone started to blow up, that's when it actually hit me,” Kanaan said. “It's been a wonderful day since. It's been a wonderful journey.

“Somebody said, Do you think you're going to regret? Lauren [wife] asked me all those tough questions this morning. I don't think 'regret' is the right word to say.

“[But] I'm going to miss it every day of my life. I miss it now. Mario Andretti drives a two-seater just because. I'm fine. I think I'm fine…

“End of May, I think it's going to get more difficult.

Kanaan finished third in the 2022 Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing and will switch to McLaren for his swansong

Kanaan finished third in the 2022 Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing and will switch to McLaren for his swansong

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

“I'm at peace in my decision. I have a great team behind me.

“I think I had a great career. I have a really good shot of winning this thing. If I win, might be sitting here again next year. You never know!”

Kanaan said his decision to end his IndyCar career is a result of not foreseeing an opportunity with a strong team in the years ahead, and being unwilling to be in the 500 just in a grid-filler car.

“You're never ready for this, but you’ve got to weigh your options,” he explained.

“I went from a full-time to a part-time. You're 48. You had a great career. As much as you don't want to go, it's there. If you're smart, you make the right decisions at the right time.

“I came to this sport to win everything I could and to do the best I could. I would hate to be coming to this place just to participate. So you weigh your opportunities.

“Last year was a really good one [he finished third in the 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing.] When I finished that race… the question was asked, Do you think you can do it again?’

“I think I can do it again for 10 more years the way I take care of myself. But that's not the point. Am I going to get the chance to do it at the right place again, to win it?

“Zak [Brown] called and I looked at the [2022] results. The two teams that dominated was the one that I was in and the one that was calling. So you can't refuse that.”

Kanaan has been a regular threat at Indianapolis since making his debut in 2002 with Mo Nunn Racing

Kanaan has been a regular threat at Indianapolis since making his debut in 2002 with Mo Nunn Racing

Photo by: Sutton Images

Kanaan said that he was proud to close out his IndyCar career with McLaren, because his idol Ayrton Senna was synonymous with Bruce McLaren’s legendary marque. It was Senna who in 1993 recommended Kanaan to the Cram Competition team that campaigned a Tatuus chassis in Formula Europa Boxer.

Kanaan won the 1994 title and graduated to Italian Formula 3 as an official Tatuus driver the following year, which he used as a launchpad to a ride in Indy Lights for 1996. Senna’s recommendation was thus the trigger point for his career on the U.S. open-wheel scene.

“Senna in Brazil, he's been my idol, the guy that was actually responsible for getting me a job in 1993 before he passed,” said Kanaan.

“Everything he's done in his career [winning all three of his world championships] was with McLaren.

“I have to say the day that I got my contract that I was signing that said ‘McLaren’ up there, I was like... At this point of my career, it's pretty cool.

“Bruce McLaren and McLaren won their first race in 1966. Mark Donohue won here in '72 [in a Penske-run McLaren carrying #66]. My first go-kart number was #6… My entire go-kart career, I won five championships with that.

“When Zak told me the story, the number, it's just perfect. That's what we're rocking on. I love it. I can't wait.”

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