Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Tony Kanaan heads into the IRL IndyCar Series season finale with one thought in mind
Kanaan controls his own destiny. Win the race and he wins the championship. However, he can finish as low as 14th and still win the title, depending on where the other contenders finish.
As far as Kanaan is concerned, winning is the only viable option.
"Only the win matters to us right now," Kanaan said. "We had a pretty consistent year, but I would say I needed a couple more wins during the season and for some reason, they did not come. We could keep the consistency, but we would rather have a couple more wins than the consistency, but it was a tight championship for all of us if you take a look at it."
"I mean, I only won one race; the other guys won two and three races. So, definitely, the key for us was the consistency, and I am going for the win, I have no other choice."
Kanaan isn't the only Honda driver chasing season honors. Dan Wheldon and Roger Yasukawa are battling it out for the Rookie of the Year award. Wheldon, a teammate of Kanaan at AGR, is just four points behind Roger Yasukawa, driver of the Super Aguri Fernandez No. 55 Honda/Dallara, to determine the best rookie of the 2003 season.
"This has been such a great learning experience for me," said Wheldon, who has driven the AGR No. 26 Honda/Dallara to fourth-place finishes in the last two IRL races. "I'm so proud of these guys for what they have done this season. Sometimes it's easy to forget that I'm a rookie and this is the first year for all of us in this series."
Sam Hornish Jr. is fourth heading into the finale, 19 points behind Dixon and Castroneves. Gil de Ferran is fifth, 30 points behind the co-leaders. The battle that has gone on for 15 races comes down to one 300-mile race.
"Nobody is going to get crazy just because they are fighting for the championship," Kanaan said. "We all race, believe me. Every race we did, we fought like we are playing for this championship. I do not think that anybody ever, ever took it easy in the last twenty laps for any race. We are going to race hard, but as hard as we did all the time."
The key to Kanaan's run for the championship has been consistency. He has won just one of the 15 races this season - at Phoenix International Raceway in March - but he has finished among the top five in nine of those 15 races. His latest, a third-place finish at California Speedway, put him in position to win the championship. Carrying that momentum into the Texas race is Kanaan's goal.
"Mentally, we have to be very strong and try to not take the pressure as a disadvantage, because we are all going to be under pressure," Kanaan said. "We have to use that as an advantage. The way I approach the race is like it is going to be a close race. You are not going to see people driving away from people, so we have to be patient and smart to be able to position ourselves for the win at the end.
"The key to doing that is to be calm, and that is what I am going to try to do. I am going to approach the weekend as aggressive, but smart and calm."
The possibility of a championship is a testament to Kanaan and his crew, led by chief mechanic Jeff Simon. In its first season in the IRL IndyCar Series, Team 7-Eleven has been competitive from the start.
"I am so proud of these guys," Kanaan said. "I know exactly what they've put into it. They deserve to win this."