Tony Kanaan, or Antoine Rizkallah Kanaan Filho, is one of the most successful IndyCar drivers and the winner of prestigious races like Daytona 24 Hours or Indianapolis 500.
Kanaan is a regular competitor in the North American premier open-wheel competitions since his debut in the CART Championship Series in 1998. He scored one title (2004 IndyCar Series) and seventeen race wins since then, including a victory at 2013 Indianapolis 500. As a regular guest in the sports car endurance races, he reached a peak in 2015 by winning the Daytona 24 Hours.
Kanaan was born on December 31, 1974, in Salvador, Brazil. Through the years, he has competed in the various championships all over the world, but most notable results achieved in the US. Interestingly, as a boy in Brazil, he was only a fan of cars and racing, competed in some karting events, but never considered a possibility of becoming a professional racing driver.
Solid results during two years in Europe
The Brazilian of Lebanese ancestry, started his career in Europe, competing in Formula Europa Boxer. He was driving Cram Motorsport’s Tatuus-Alfa Romeo and after winning five races, he became the series champion in 1994. In the following year, Kanaan moved to Italian Formula 3, driving a Dallara 395-Opel and did well. He won one race and had nine podium finishes what was enough to take 5th place at the end of the season.
Immediate success in the Indy Lights Series
In 1996, Kanaan moved to the US and debuted in Indy Lights Series. He spent two years in the competition and did an excellent job which allowed him further progress. In his rookie season, the Brazilian scored two wins driving Tasman Motorsports’ Lola-Buick and finished the season as a runner-up. The following year was even better as Tony became a champion. Again he had two wins on his account but had five podium finishes. At the end, he was six points ahead of his compatriot Helio Castroneves what was the beginning of a great rivalry.
Progressing to CART Championship Series in 1998
For the 1998 campaign, Kanaan stayed with Tasman Motorsports but switched to CART World Series. This time, a rookie season wasn’t as good as in the Indy Lights. Tony had only two podium finishes to take 9th place in the Drivers’ championship, but still he has won Rookie of the Year award. In 1999, driving for Forsythe Racing, Kanaan clinched maiden victory in the CART Series, winning the U.S. 500 race at Michigan. Unfortunately, most of the season wasn’t so good and he had to settle for 11th place overall.
Before the start of the season 2000, Tony Kanaan again changed the team . He became a member of Mo Nunn Racing but the year with a new team was disappointing. Kanaan finished in 19th place, missing a part of the season due to injury. Slightly better the Brazilian did in 2001 when he was 9th in the Drivers’ championship while in 2002 he took 12th place. The same year he debuted in IndyCar Series, finishing 28th at Indianapolis 500.
Next step in his career was to become IndyCar Series champion
Starting from 2003, the Brazilian racer is a member of Andretti Autosport, one of the best teams in the championship. From that year, Tony Kanaan is not just a regular driver in the IndyCar Series, but also almost regular in top 10. His first season in the competition was very good. He managed to win the race in Phoenix and finish the season on the fourth place. It was obvious that Kanaan is ready to be one of the best drivers in the series, but nobody has expected that he can become a champion in 2004.
That year Tony was almost perfect. He won three races (Phoenix, Texas and Nashville) and finished second on six occasions. He scored a total of 618 points that year, 85 more than runner-up and his teammate Dan Wheldon. For this achievement, he tested BAR’s Formula 1 at Jerez Circuit as a reward for winning the IndyCar title in a Honda-powered car.
Top 10 regular in IndyCar Series
Now Kanaan was one to beat and he had to battle with pressure. He failed to retain the crown but had a very good season. The Andretti Autosport's driver scored two wins in 2005, had seven podium finishes to become a vice-champion, 80 points behind Dan Wheldon. The following year Kanaan was sixth overall after clinching only one race win.
The year of 2007 was Kanaan’s best considering number of race wins (5) but in the remaining 12 races, he failed to finish in top 3 what proved to be key in battle for the title. Brazilian driver and good friend of well-known Formula 1 driver Rubens Barrichello finished the season in third place, behind Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. In 2008, Tony again was third overall, well behind a new champion Scott Dixon and runner-up Helio Castroneves, after winning only one race and having six podium finishes.
The first year without a single win
For the first time in his IndyCar career, Kanaan in 2009 failed to score a single win but for the first time since 2004 held a lead in the championship at one point of the season. Most of the season was relatively poor for the former champion who had to be happy with 6th place in the championship, just as in the following year. In 2010, his final year with Andretti Autosport, Brazilian star won one race, confirming that he is still capable of driving at the highest level.
Video - Tony Kanaan in David Letterman's show
From Andretti to KV Racing
In 2011, Kanaan originally had to drive for Ferran Dragon Racing team, but the deal fell through just the days before the season opening. Luckily, he quickly was acquired by KV Racing Technology, owned by one of the former Tony’s rivals Jimmy Vasser. Although he did not win a race that year, Kanaan did relatively well to finish fifth in the Drivers’ championship. Sadly, that season was marked by a huge accident at the last race of the campaign at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kanaan qualified for pole position and had a lead after 12 laps when the race was stopped after many cars were involved in a crash in which Kanaan’s good friend and former teammate Dan Wheldon was killed.
Kanaan wins Indianapolis 500 in his 12th attempt
Kanaan stayed with KV Racing Technology team for further two years, but both weren’t as good as both sides were expected. In 2012, Tony finished 9th without a race win, but in 2013, he finally won the Indianapolis 500, after 11 unsuccessful attempts. That was very exciting and the fastest Indianapolis 500 race ever with an average speed of 301.644 km/h, with 68 lead changes and 14 different leaders. Kanaan won the race after overtaking Ryan Hunter-Reay with three laps to go. That was the only win for Kanaan that year in which he finished 11th overall, what is the only time he was out of top 10 in his IndyCar career.
Just one IndyCar victory in four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing
Starting from 2014, Tony was a driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dallara-Chevrolet. He became as a replacement for retired Dario Franchitti. He clinched only one race victory, at Fontana, in his first season with the team. It turned to be his only IndyCar victory in four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing.
He finished seventh in the championship in 2014, dropping to 8th in 2105 and then finishing again seventh in 2016. In 2017, what was one more winless season, Kanaan finished 10th in the points.
Daytona 24 Hours winner in 2015
Out of IndyCar, Kanaan had success at 24 Hours of Daytona. His first race at the famous circuit was back in 1998 with Tom Gloy Racing team when was third in GT1 class in a Ford Mustang Cobra. He returned to Daytona fifteen years later, driving a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup for Dener Motorsport.
In 2014, Kanaan appeared at Daytona 24h for the first time in Chip Ganassi Racing's Riley-Ford prototype, finishing 15th. And then, in 2015, driving the #02 Riley Mk XXVI-Ford alongside Jamie McMurray, Scott Dixon, and Kyle Larson, he won the race after a big battle against Action Express Racing’s Chevrolet. He returned one more time in a Riley-Ford in 2016 and then in a Ford GT in 2017. He also made Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 2017, finishing sixth in the GTE Pro class in a Ford GT.
Joining AJ Foyt for the 2018 IndyCar Series season
After four relatively unsuccessful seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, scoring just one victory in four years, Kanaan decided to accept a new challenge for the 2018 IndyCar Series season. He joins AJ Foyt's team to drive the #14 Chevrolet. The season was marked by his 300th consecutive IndyCar start in the season's finale at Sonoma but his results over the season were not good. His season-best result was the sixth place at Toronto and he finished just 16th in the points.
Outside IndyCar, he participated in two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship with Chip Ganassi Racing's Ford GT, including Le Mans 24 Hours, where he finished 12th in GTE Pro class.
In 2019, the year in the #14 Chevrolet was slightly better than in 2018. His best result was the third place at the Gateway and he finished 15th in the points at the end of the season.