Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 82- IndyCar 36: Tony Kanaan

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to The Critic’s Annex, that special section of our Thursday Newsletter where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. In Tuesday’s edition of “Couch Potato Tuesday”:https://frontstretch.com/pallaway/38075/, we took a look at the rebranded NBC Sports Network’s first race telecast of the year, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. It was pretty good. And the racing wasn’t too shabby, either.

However, preceding NBC Sports Network’s pre-race show (IndyCar Central) came a brand-new series entitled IndyCar 36. Why is this show called IndyCar 36? Well, the general idea is that cameras follow around a driver for 36 hours during a race weekend. The first driver up was Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 GEICO-sponsored Chevrolet Dallara for KV Racing Technologies.

NBC Sports Network officially treats IndyCar 36 as a pre-show to IndyCar Central. You know, to amp people up for the actual pre-race coverage, and then the race itself. I’m fine with that. Before the show began, Bob Jenkins gave a brief welcome to Barber Motorsports Park and briefly talked about how Helio Castroneves won the pole and the $10,000 that comes with it before switching to our subject for the half-hour, Kanaan.

The show starts out with Kanaan driving to the street circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida from their hotel on Saturday morning with his fiancé, Lauren. Teammate and good buddy Rubens Barrichello tags along for the ride as well. During the drive, we hear voiceover commentary from Kanaan about how important the upcoming final pre-qualifying practice session is. There is also cutaway interview footage where Kanaan talks about Barrichello’s skill behind the wheel. He states that Barrichello “…didn’t stay in Formula One for 19 years just because he’s lucky.”

Kanaan has had a great record on the street course in St. Petersburg. He has never won, but came very close to pulling off the feat on his first try in 2005. Footage was shown in the special of Kanaan racing very hard for the lead with Ryan Briscoe (then racing for Chip Ganassi) on Lap 92. Kanaan made a move for the inside at Turn 10 and got fully alongside. Briscoe, then a rookie in the series in only his third start, seemed to turn in on Kanaan and the two had contact. Kanaan continued on, while Briscoe nosed into the tires and went out of the race. However, Kanaan lost momentum and Dan Wheldon swept by to take the lead and the victory on the road that is now officially named for him. Since then, Kanaan has finished third at St. Petersburg four separate times, including last year.

Following a somewhat harrowing ride to the pits on a Cub scooter (with lipstick cameras attached to it), Kanaan got down to the business of practicing his No. 11, but not before they took the time to talk about his quirks (always getting in the car from the left side, putting on shoes a certain way), and one superstition (lucky underwear) that has since gone out the window.

The second segment began with a brief mention of Kanaan’s efforts at last year’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, something that Kanaan (along with Vitor Meira, who currently does not have a ride in the Izod IndyCar Series) had always wanted to do. Let’s just say that he aimed really high. The Kona Ironman is considered to be the toughest of them all.

Following that interlude, the show delved into his communication with Tim Cowdin, KV Racing Technologies’ Technical Director and engineer Jeff Simon. Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser talked about just how easy Kanaan works with them. Vasser’s partner, Kevin Kalkhoven, expressed similar sentiments (Kalkhoven was the man with the white goatee talking with Kanaan right after Vasser appeared).

Qualifying was a somewhat disappointing time for Kanaan. He expected to get his No. 11 into the Firestone Fast Six, but failed to do. Qualifying ninth, he missed it by less than a tenth and nitpicked himself over that afterwards. After the session, Kanaan went to do an autograph session. While the footage of him meeting and greeting fans was airing, Kanaan talked about how it was one of his favorite parts of each race weekend.

On Saturday night, Kanaan appeared at a special dinner for Apex, described as a Brazilian sponsor. Its a bit unclear, but this company probably was ApexBrasil, the Brazilian company that produces the 100 percent Ethanol race fuel for the series from sugar cane (this is said to be a much more efficient form of ethanol than the corn ethanol that you see in the United States). Kanaan welcomed ApexBrasil’s guests to St. Petersburg and hoped that they had a good time and learned some things about the series.

Sunday morning brought on the morning warm-up, something that is basically a foreign concept to anyone that focuses on NASCAR. For the Izod IndyCar Series teams, final practice is the morning of the race. During that session, Kanaan encountered some difficulties, including a spin. However, Kanaan stated that he was happy it occurred then and not during the race.

After a brief meet and greet with sponsors, Kanaan went out for driver introductions. He briefly talks to Holly Wheldon, Dan’s sister, on pit road before getting into his car (Holly waved the green flag at the beginning of the race and greeted the top-3 finishers at the podium ceremony after the race). A Kanaan voiceover covered how he felt during this brief conversation.

Finally, we get to the race on Sunday afternoon. Footage of race action alternated between exterior views and the view from Kanaan’s camera on the roll hoop. Some radio communication between the team and Kanaan was included, along with some audio from both IMS Radio and ABC. This was not dissimilar to how the NBC Sports Network did their St. Petersburg race review a little later Sunday afternoon, but with more emphasis on “natural audio.”

After the final break, Kanaan’s car dropped dead due to battery issues. It was a great shame since an early pit stop precipitated by the yellow brought out when Katherine Legge stalled just past pit in and another quick yellow shortly afterwards for James Jakes’ crash brought everyone else in. Kanaan would have been leading the race at the restart with a pretty good chance of contending for the win.

Instead, Kanaan was left to try to explain what happened on the pit box to his team. Cameras showed viewers this meeting of the minds, then his interview with ESPN’s Jamie Little where he talked about what happened and how he thought some other things were more important in life. After giving Holly Wheldon a warm hug, he and Lauren rode off. Kanaan explained this mindset a little bit further in another interview exclusive to this show.

The show ended with the clip of race winner Castroneves climbing the fence and patting the “Dan Wheldon Way” sign. Kanaan ended by talking about whether he was still racing for his father, who died back in 1986, for himself, or for Dan, one of his best friends. Interesting way to end a show.

Overall, this show is nothing like some of the in-depth driver feature pieces that ESPN has done in recent years on Sprint Cup drivers. Viewers didn’t really learn all that much about Kanaan the person. Instead, the show was really more a day and a half in Kanaan’s shoes with somewhat apropos references to Kanaan’s past.

The show talks briefly about how Kanaan and Barrichello are all but best friends, then they don’t mention Barrichello again until the end of the show. I think fans would have liked to know how the two racers’ friendship first began. For example, I never knew that the two of them were friends until just recently. Heck, maybe some of the show could have focused on Barrichello’s adjustment to the Izod IndyCar Series and how Kanaan helped him (I’m sure he did, but I’m not sure how) in St. Petersburg with the transition. Also, knowing how powerful the emotions were in St. Petersburg, it probably would have been a good idea to let Kanaan talk more about Wheldon. Remember, Kanaan and Wheldon were teammates for two full seasons (and most of a third one) and spent a great deal of time together.

I did like what actually made air on this show, but I feel that there was a lot of material that either got cut out from the show altogether, or may not have even been broached. Some of that material, especially stuff involving Wheldon, might have been a little tough for Kanaan to talk about and because of that, they chose not to dwell on it. If so, that’s understandable. But regardless, I feel like we missed out on a bunch of stuff. Perhaps this show might work better as a one-hour show.

I hope you liked this look at IndyCar 36: Tony Kanaan. Since there is no racing on tap for this weekend, enjoy Easter weekend and we’ll be back next week.

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