A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and…yes, some troubling incidents, too – mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.
The fact that the “500” winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number…so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden.
For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it's…
11th – TONY KANAAN
KV Racing Technology Dallara-Chevrolet
Best finish – 1st, Indianapolis 500
Best start – 4th, Sao Paulo, Toronto 1
Marshall Pruett writes…
The Indy 500, the other ovals, and everything else. That's the easiest way to describe Tony Kanaan's most uncharacteristic year to date. TK's lowest championship finish in 11 seasons of IndyCar Series competition was countered by slaying his own personal dragon at the 97th Indy 500. The 38-year-old experienced the highest of highs, which makes his somewhat forgettable season before and after Indy so strange.
He stood on the podium three more times – all on ovals – which helped secure 11th in the standings, but 2013 was the first season since his early days in CART where the Brazilian wasn't one of the regular storylines from round to round. His last podium visit on a road or street course came at Baltimore in 2011, and with 13 of this year's 19 rounds being held on twisty circuits, the odds conspired against TK achieving greater success.
Whether it has been the new Dallara DW12 chassis or other issues behind the scenes at KV Racing, if we subtract TK's big day in May, there weren't a lot of TK's usual fireworks to look back upon. Four DNFs from the final seven races prevented Kanaan from cracking the top-10 in the final standings, but it was obvious from very early in the season that the 2004 series champion and his KV teammate Simona de Silvestro were lacking something in their road racing setups.
The same sentiment was felt at KV last off-season. Kanaan, who'd placed fifth with KV in 2011 with almost no pre-season testing, was incredibly effective piloting the old Dallara IR07 chassis. But with everyone starting from scratch in 2012, TK's ninth-place championship finish, followed by this year's 11th, highlight a greater issue.
It's easy to point fingers at the engineer, but Kanaan and Eric Cowdin – both of whom are headed to Ganassi next year – have plenty of chemistry dating back to their IndyCar championship with Andretti Green in 2004. KV went down an unsuccessful path on damper development in 2012, which continued to negatively impact the team in 2013. The addition of de Silvestro should have helped to improve the team's overall setup base, but a season-long discord between both engineering camps rendered both entries as single-car programs running under the same tent. Kanaan does his best work when all's going well and positivity is in the air, and there wasn't much in the way of sunshine flowing in either direction this year following the “500.”
Now TK's bags are packed for reigning champs Ganassi, where there are no questions about chassis setup and where he will continue using Chevy power. In other words, he enters 2014 with everything he needs to get back to business. It should provide some fascinating context on his past two seasons with KV.
Robin Miller writes…
Yes, he had inspired runs at Long Beach, Brazil, Pocono and Fontana but 2013 was all about one thing for Tony Kanaan: leaving one club at Indianapolis and joining another one. By scoring his first Indy 500 win, T.K. put his face on the Borg-Warner trophy and removed his lovable mug from that fraternity nobody wants to belong to: “Best To Never Win Indianapolis.”
“No offense to Lloyd Ruby, but I didn't want to be mentioned with him the rest of my life,” said Kanaan, referring to the talented Texan who came close but never tasted milk at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Same with Michael [Andretti]. He's a good friend and a great driver but now we're no longer related!”
Andretti, Ruby and Kanaan were considered by many as the best to have never made it to Victory Lane but the 39-year-old Brazilian emerged from a wild West 16th Street shootout to take something he deserved after so many near misses.
He followed up Indy with podiums at Texas, Iowa and Fontana and had a good shot at winning Pocono before getting his front wing knocked off during a mistimed pass.
The 2004 IndyCar champion did take fourth in the season opener at St. Pete and was leading the street race in his homeland before running out of fuel, but his shining moments and strengths in 2013 were on the ovals. Kanaan's overtaking skills served him well in May, where he started 12th and led 34 laps in another ultra-competitive Indy 500. Not bad for a guy who declared his car the “worst” he'd ever driven at the Speedway on the final day of practice.
“It was pretty bad but we made some changes on Carb Day and he liked them,” said Eric Cowdin, longtime engineer for the emotional veteran, who began his American career sleeping on the floor of Cowdin's apartment.
Despite his Indy win and that trio of thirds, it was feast or famine for T.K. as he had four DNFs due to accidents and a host of forgettable starts. But, if he was only going to win one race, he picked the right one and that made finishing 11th in the standings a whole lot easier to swallow.
David Malsher writes…
In a season full of memorable moments, Tony Kanaan, the charging bull in the IndyCar china shop when it comes to oval racing, finally conquered the biggest race of all. Detractors moan that the Indy 500 was won under yellow, and question whether the Andretti Autosport trio behind – Carlos Munoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti – could have beaten the KV Racing car in a straight-up run to the checkers. What they're forgetting is that when the green had waved previously, Kanaan guessed there would likely be more clashes and thus another caution period, therefore he hit the restart with extreme urgency. TK had more than pace and aggression on his side; he used his brain.
I've long been a fan of the way Kanaan races on street courses. No, he's not usually good at qualifying on them, but at race pace he shows great judgment in car placement and how to make a clean pass, as well as what is and what isn't good defense. (His clash with Oriol Servia at Long Beach was atypical, while his move on Graham Rahal at Baltimore looked like…well, let's put it this way: I think he expected that outcome. Like I say, Kanaan is race smart.)
There was more evidence of this, too, in St. Petersburg. Outpaced by new teammate Simona de Silvestro in qualifying, TK grabbed fourth in the closing stages of the race while the other KV driver burned off her rear tires trying in vain to hold off him, Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon. In Brazil – admittedly helped by an extremely muddled qualifying session that saw Team Penske fail to escape Q1! – Kanaan qualified top six and ran at the front until he ran out of gas. Extremely unfortunate this because, given how the race played out, I'd like to have seen him part of that multi-car scrap in the closing stages.
Elsewhere, Kanaan was, as ever, hopelessly lost in qualifying on the natural road courses, surprisingly excellent in Toronto, and predictably outstanding on the ovals. Funny thing is, his skills on the left-turn-only tracks went up another notch this year. Remember how, in the recent past he's had wall-thumping incidents while trying to carry his car? Not this year. At Texas, Iowa and Fontana, there were cars that were plain superior to his, and so he stayed realistic, consolidated what he had, and reached the podium each time.
Like I said, smart driver….