LONG BEACH, California – Tony Kanaan’s crash during the first round of NTT P1 Award qualifying on Saturday was worse on him than he thought, but the ironman of the NTT IndyCar Series was determined to keep his consecutive starts streak alive Sunday at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Kanaan took the green flag to extend his record for consecutive Indy car races started to 304, but it didn’t come without some reflection and wincing. Kanaan soldiered home to a 21st-place finish in the race, battling a broken underwing and strake on the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet after teammate Matheus Leist ran into the back of his car on the opening lap.
“It’s my neck, lower back and right knee, which is pretty banged up,” Kanaan said of the injuries sustained when his car went hard into a tire barrier in qualifying. “It was a head-on collision, so my neck is sore, my back is sore and the right knee. We bent the steering column into my knee.”
Kanaan was checked and cleared by INDYCAR Medical staff immediately after the incident, but he didn’t start feeling the full effects and pain until Saturday night.
“That’s usually what happens,” he said. “In the afternoon, the body cools off. Through the night, it was pretty painful. Then (race) morning, I woke up and went straight to medical.”
Kanaan was going to do whatever it took to keep alive the streak he began in June 2001 at Portland International Raceway.
“I’m OK (physically), but I feel bad because we don’t have it,” the 44-year-old Kanaan said after taking the checkered flag two laps behind race winner Alexander Rossi. “We have to figure something out. It’s very disappointing. My injuries were the least of my problems, for sure.”
That’s saying something. A team spokesperson said Kanaan received a shot before the race for the pain in his right knee. It may have helped him mash the throttle, but the bumpy 1.968-mile temporary street course was unforgiving, as was the rest of the field.
Kanaan said team owner A.J. Foyt warned him on Saturday that he would feel the effects of the crash.
“A.J. knew it. He said, ‘You’re going to be sore tomorrow,’” Kanaan said. “I said, ‘Nah,’ but I should listen to the old man all the time.”
Kanaan rated the pain level a “6 out of 10, so quite a bit,” but said after the race “it was all right.”
Heading into the race, he was focused on starting the event to extend the amazing streak and seeing how it went.
“I’m definitely not 100 percent,” the 2004 NTT IndyCar Series and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner said. “We’re going to take it easy and try to make the best of it. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Most of what happened was not good, following the early contact he said left him with a slow car. Kanaan used a three-stop pit strategy but still languished near the rear of the field for most of the afternoon. The popular Brazilian, who hopes to rebound next month in Indianapolis – particularly at the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge – pitted on Lap 12 and again on Lap 35 of the 85-lap race. But there were no timely cautions to help him leapfrog others, so there was no Cinderella story in the works.
The last time Kanaan missed an Indy car race came when he sustained a concussion in a qualifying crash for the CART event at Detroit’s Belle Isle in 2001. He was cleared to race the following week in Portland, and the streak began.
A year earlier, also at Detroit, a vicious qualifying crash knocked him out of action for four CART races. Kanaan said the 2000 incident left him in the most pain he’s ever felt.
“I had a broken arm and (fractured) seven ribs,” he said, neglecting to add he also suffered a punctured lung in the incident.
The streak intact following Sunday’s race, Kanaan also has sights set on climbing the Indy car ladder in total career starts. He sits now at 364, within five of tying his boss for second all time. Mario Andretti holds the record with 407.
The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action Saturday, May 11 with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Live coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.