INDIANAPOLIS – It had been nearly three years since Tony Kanaan’s last victory, a drought so long his young son had no memory of ever seeing his father win a race.
It was a sticky subject with young Leo, who just last week reminded Kanaan of the winless stretch during a phone call from Brazil.
“I was having a conversation with him about losing the other day — I was trying to teach him you don’t win every time,” Kanaan said Monday. “He said, ‘Yeah, Dad, because as long as I remember, I haven’t seen you win.’ That was harsh.”
Harsh, but unfortunately true for a driver trapped in a never-ending search for sponsorship that had turned the last few years into an overwhelming struggle to ensure he could race.
It’s what made his breakthrough victory Sunday in the Indianapolis 500 so sweet, so special. It was a victory for the old guard, one Leo would always remember, and proved good guys sometimes do finish first.
More important, it relieved the financial burden KV Racing Technology has faced this season, a year in which Kanaan’s car lost its longtime primary sponsor and had been piecing together corporate support since right before the season opener when the team announced Hydroxycut had signed on for nine races. It left five unsponsored, and Kanaan revealed Monday that team co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser went into Indianapolis unsure if they’d finish the season.
“The past three years I’ve been working extremely hard, probably even harder than driving the car, to find the sponsorship to keep surviving,” Kanaan said. “I hope this win helps me a little bit more, makes it easier to either find a sponsorship or maybe get back on a team that is well-funded. I’m not saying we’re going to make the same money we used to make, because these are different times.
“But I would like to have a little bit less pressure on my side, to just really concentrate on driving.”
He’s in the final year of his contract with KV, a team that snapped him up before shortly before the 2011 season opener when sponsorship materialized. Kanaan was out of a job at the time because his sponsorship at Andretti Autosport had gone away, and a plan to drive for a new team started by fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran fell apart because of a lack of funding. The deal to drive for de Ferran was announced in December 2010 and evaporated two months later.
So he’s grateful to KV Racing, which has worked hard to compete on the race track and in the sponsorship game the last three years. Kanaan would like to continue driving for the team, but has grown weary of the fight.
“I’m happy where I’m at, I’m confident that with this we can build something solid for the following year,” he said. “We were so sketchy up until this race, we didn’t even know if we were going to do the entire year. Now I’m pretty sure we will. But I would love to work a little bit less on that side.”