(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)By JENNA FRYERAP Auto Racing Writer
Tony Kanaan is feeling the pressure from new teammate Simona de Silvestro in a way that reminds him of his days battling Alex Zanardi.
Kanaan finished fourth in IndyCar’s season-opening race at St. Pete, where he passed de Silvestro in the closing laps to ensure he was the highest-finishing driver for KV Racing Technology. She finished sixth in her debut race with her new team, losing three positions in the final two laps because of old tires.
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Kanaan admitted Wednesday de Silvestro’s pace and potential is pushing him on the track.
”Simona brought a lot of spark and light into the team. I enjoy working with her. I have no problem teaching her whatever I can,” he said. ”I like to see this young girl that wants to do well, because that’s her opportunity. That obviously pushes me to my limit. I’m going to admit that she’s extremely fast. I said that even before she was my teammate, so I’m not trying to make any excuses.”
The 38-year-old Kanaan is the only holdover at KV after last year’s disappointing season, when he finished ninth in the standings with just three podiums. Best friend Rubens Barrichello did not return to IndyCar and stayed in Brazil to race stock cars, and E.J. Viso moved to Andretti Autosport.
De Silvestro, who spent last season with HVM Racing and an underpowered Lotus, moved to KV Racing during the offseason and held her own in early test sessions. Now with the best team of her IndyCar career and powered by a Chevrolet engine, the 24-year-old had a strong debut at St. Pete.
She was fast the entire weekend – faster than Kanaan – and qualified a career-best third while advancing to the Fast Six round for the first time.
Kanaan insisted he’s accustomed to fast teammates, rattling off Zanardi, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay as former teammates who pushed him on the track.
”Those are people that are extremely good. It’s good to get beat sometimes, that’s how we learn,” he said. ”Me and Simona, if we keep working together to make KV successful, I think that’s the secret. I’m going to beat her sometimes; she’s going to beat me sometimes. She’s not going to like the days I finish ahead of her and likewise. As long as we use that to our advantage, it’s going to be awesome.”
He said she reminds him most of his time as teammates with Zanardi when they drove for Mo Nunn in CART. And de Silvestro, who has never had a teammate before in IndyCar, is enjoying her time with Kanaan.
”He has a lot of experience. I feel like we have a good friendly competition going on in the team,” she said. ”I think we really push each other every session. I think the team gets better that way. I think that’s going to make us pretty strong the whole season.”