When the Speed51 Elite Indy Series went to Auto Club Speedway, 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan knew he had to get involved in the race as more than just a driver. After talking to Elite Racing Leagues owner Chad Frankenfield, he sponsored the race at the track where he clinched the 2004 IndyCar Series championship.
“TK” won Sunday night’s TK Fontana Last Lap Challenge. He and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson traded the lead throughout the 100-lap event, as the two were set to battle for the win on a green-white-checkered before a yellow ended the race.
For Kanaan, the win comes at the same track he earned his last real-life IndyCar win to date when he won the 2014 IndyCar finale.
“It was really fun, I hate yellow flag finishes. Me and Marcus (Ericsson) had a great battle going on the entire race, we raced pretty clean,” Kanaan said on the broadcast. “I love racing these group of guys because we rarely have people making big mistakes.
“Fontana is a place that means a lot to me, I’ve won a few races there in my career. I won my 2004 championship there. I told Chad, hey, this place means a lot, let me do something for you. The guys gave me a hard time because they said they gave me extra horsepower, but it was fun.”
It was a big win for Kanaan, who hadn’t taken part in iRacing until the COVID-19 shutdown began. It has provided an out during the pandemic, keeping his skills sharp for when he gets back behind the wheel at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6.
“My first time on iRacing was six weeks ago, I had never had a sim before. I was hesitant to get one because I knew what was going to happen. I’ve been learning a lot. The ovals have been easier on me, I’ve been struggling on the road courses. I’ve been dedicating a lot of my time. It came at the right time, I believe everything happens for a reason and with the situation with the lockdown, although I have four kids here to keep me plenty busy, this was a way for me to vent and not miss the race car as much.”
He was on “The Bullring” Wednesday afternoon to discuss his time on the sim and in the Speed51 Elite Indy Series. With as much fun as he’s had, he plans on continuing to take part in sim racing even when real racing returns.
“I have to say, I kind of regret I didn’t find out about this earlier. We’ve had this pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about it, I hope we come out as better people at the end of this, with everybody having a new perspective on life. With the iRacing stuff, I’m going to keep doing it, I now have a full sim at my house and it’s not going anywhere.
“Wednesday nights are usually the nights we’re home, even when we go back to a normal life and championship racing in the real race cars. Tuesday and Wednesday nights are when I’m usually home so I’ll have plenty of time to do more races. I’m already talking to Chad and the guys to see what are more races I can do.”
Among the reasons why he’s drawn to sim racing is the opportunity to compete with racers from different disciplines.
“I’m excited about this, we’re getting big names from other sports like hockey. Then in racing, I get to race against guys like Kyle Busch, and he gets to race against guys like me. In real life that hasn’t happened yet. He’s competed in the IndyCar stuff three times and I’m trying to convince him to let me run one of the Cup races virtually.”
Kanaan was followed by IndyCar Series drivers Marcus Ericsson, Gabby Chaves and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Australian V8 SuperCar champion Scott McLaughlin rounded out the top five.
The Speed51 Elite Indy Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for their version of the Indianapolis 500 on Friday, May 15. Click here to watch a replay of Sunday night’s TK Fontana Last Lap Challenge.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3