INDIANAPOLIS – When Tony Kanaan spoke out to the critics of this year’s 99th Indianapolis 500, he became a hero to the segment of the racing community that realizes that high-speed auto racing is an inherently dangerous sport. He believed people unfamiliar with the history of this grand event were unfairly criticizing the Verizon IndyCar Series and that – from time to time – danger has played a major role at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“This is racing,” Kanaan said. “I get offended. People try to diminish the magnitude of the racing. That is why I came out and said, ‘Guys, let’s face it. Every time we hop into that car we don’t know if we are going to come out of it. But that is what makes us who we are. That is what makes us famous. That is why it allows us to make the money we make.’
“If somebody is not comfortable like that, they shouldn’t be in a race car.”
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Kanaan defended the sport and the series in the aftermath of three airborne crashes involving Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter. All three of those incidents were caused by different reasons but it was the crash that injured James Hinchcliffe on Monday that has received the most attention, and that is a crash where his car did not fly in the air.
A hard impact into the Turn 3 wall drove a front suspension rod into the bottom of the safety cell – otherwise known as the tub. Because it is a part of the car that did not have an anti-intrusion panel, the suspension rod went under the car, into Hinchcliffe’s right leg, continued into his left thigh before coming to a stop in his pelvis.
Hinchcliffe suffered a massive amount of bleeding but the Holmatro Safety Team was able to save the driver. He was taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.
The driver from Oakville, Ontario has made incredible progress and according to his father, Jeremy, he was able to walk on Thursday – just four days after the crash.
Hinchcliffe will be replaced in Sunday’s 99th Indianapolis 500 by Ryan Briscoe, who will start the Indy 500 for a 10th time in his career.
“I just wanted to send out a message out to the fans. People are saying cars are flying into the grandstands. That didn’t happen and I don’t think that will happen. But anybody that watches a race or comes to race should be aware of the risks of being at the racetrack. That’s just the way it is.”
At 40, Kanaan is now the elder statesman of IndyCar racing – a role that he embraces.
“I’ve been around for a long time so I speak for people who have experience,” Kanaan said. “Obviously, I have a good relationship with the media and by default people ask me to talk and I like to talk, especially when I believe there is nothing wrong with it. I’m trying to send the message to the fans and the people who are speculating on something they don’t understand.”
Crashes and serious accidents at the Indianapolis 500 are not a new phenomenon. Much of its history has seen far worse than what has happened at Indy this month.
“Google Indy 500 accidents and let me know if that just happened this week,” Kanaan said. “That’s why this race is what it is.
“To me, I don’t think we have an issue. We need to look into it to see why it keeps happening. But when I talk to the aerodynamicists and they tell me they have done all the tests they can do so far and nothing has shown it is a problem I believe them. We are never going to make it 100 percent safe. We can’t say that with a streetcar that it’s 100 percent safe.
“It’s unfair to say when a car loses one wheel or two wheels after it hits the wall we can’t control the aftermath. We don’t build cars to crash.”
That three of the four drivers involved in the spectacular crashes were uninjured and that Hinchcliffe is making remarkable progress in his recovery is a positive sign to the safety of the current IndyCar with the Chevrolet and Honda Aero Kits, according to Kanaan.
“It tells you the technology and how proactive we are,” Kanaan said. “A lot of people think we overreacted but I would overreact and slow cars down to prevent something (rather than) not react and something else tragic happens. I’m pleased with the decisions. I know people had different opinions about qualifying speeds but until we find out if there was something wrong with it I think it was the right call.”
Kanaan will start fourth, the inside of Row 2, in Sunday’s 99th Indianapolis 500. The weather forecast is for temperatures near 80 with high humidity and the chance of rain.
“Our cars are very sensitive to air temperature and track temperature,” Kanaan said. “Depending on the humidity it will get bad for us. Humidity is not good for the engine or aerodynamics. It will be the same for everybody on Sunday so we will see what happens. It’s always a nerve-racking Sunday morning trying to determine what the weather will be to put on the car.”
When asked if he has an outstanding chance of scoring a second Indy 500 win, Kanaan smiled.
“I’m confident,” he said. “It will take more than just a good car, like usual. I think I can race here. I think I can.”
Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 will be Kanaan’s 300th career IndyCar start — the eighth most for any driver in IndyCar history.
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.