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The Exhaust Circuit

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  August 13, 2011 06:11 PM

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LOUDON, N.H. --- Tony Kanaan qualified third fastest for today's MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a lap of 169.698 miles per hour. Dario Franchitti's pole-winning lap of 170.843 miles per hour knocked Kanaan off the front row, but it didn't prevent the affable Brazilian driver from motoring up on his scooter on pit road to offer his congratulations to Franchitti, with whom he was teammates for better part of five seasons (2003-2007) at Andretti Green Racing now Andretti Autosport.

Michael Vega/Globe Staff

Tony Kanaan (right) with former teammate Marco Andretti last year at Indy.

Kanaan, who won the 2004 IndyCar Series title at Andretti Autosport after completing every lap of every race that season, found himself in an unfamiliar -- if not entirely uncomfortable situation at the end of last season: Out of a ride.

Kanaan, a perennial title threat who had come to be regarded as a mentor to teammate Danica Patrick at Andretti, was the odd man out when the team lost two of its four primary sponsors and was unable to find any suitable replacements able to pony up his $2 million salary.

Out of a job, Kanaan did the only thing he could do: pound the pavement in search of a new one.

And so, with his updated resume in hand and dressed in his best business attire, he went around Brazil, calling on the movers and shakers in the business world who were capable of helping him raised the $6-7 million needed to fund a competitve ride on the IndyCar circuit.

Kanaan's prospects looked grim when he was only able to come up with only $2-3 million, he said. It wasn't until he struck a last-minute deal with KV Racing Technologies that he cemented a ride for the 2011 season.

"We put a team together, literally, seven days before the [March 27] season opener at St. Pete,'' Kanaan said this week, during a press function at Muqueca Restaurant, a Brazilian eatery in Cambridge where he was joined by fellow Brazilian drivers Helio Castroneves and Ana Beatriz.

"So, I would say we've done a lot better than I really expected,'' said Kanaan, who entered the race at NHMS ranked fourth in the Izod IndyCar Series points with 283 after posting six Top 5s and eight top 10s, completing 1,360 out of a possible 1,483 laps in 10 races.

"I had to kind of reset my expectations when all that offseason drama I went through,'' Kanaan said. "First I went through a transition of `Do I really still want to do this?' or if it was a sign that I should actually [retire]. I said to myself, `If I really want to do this, I know I'm going to fight for it like I've always done.' The mentality was not expecting anything but I was going to have some fun.''

And having fun is something the fun-loving Kanaan has never been accused of before.

"The fun came with the good results, as well,'' Kanaan. "If you look at the level we've brought up KV right now, it's quite remarkable. I didn't put myself in that situation when that deal with Andretti and the sponsors happened at the end of October last year.

"I knew from then on, it was going to be hard to be a championship contender because, let's face it, the top three teams are Penske, Ganassi and Andretti,'' said Kanaan, whose best result this season was a runner-up finish to Marco Andretti at Iowa Speedway. "But it's not what I really wanted for me; yeah, I'm not winning as much, but sometimes you have to put in perspective of what happened and how I'm still here after going out and finding sponsorship in four months that teams had been looking for for years.''

Asked if KV was ready to become a championship team, Kanaan was pragmatic in his response.

"Not this year,'' he said. "I think, like everything in life, it's a build-up. What we're doing right now is we're building the team to the next level and to do that we're going to have to make some changes, so slowly I think we're building for the following year.

"This year? I'd be lying to you if I said I could win the championship,'' Kanaan said. "If anyone besides Will Power and Dario were going to tell you they were going to win the championship, they'd be lying to you.''

Kanaan said his goal was much more simpler than that.

"To win a race,'' he said. "Don't get me wrong. It's not like I have no expectations and wherever I finish, I'm happy with it. No, the goal is to win a race and I think this weekend is one of our best chances because of the car we had in Milwaukee and the car we had in Iowa.''

And if he were to win Sunday? In front of a strong Brazilian contingent of fans, as fellow countryman Andre Ribeiro did in 1995 in the last event staged by Championship Auto Racing Teams, Kanaan said it might move him to tears.

"To win my first race with KV, with the majority of the Brazilians around here, it's like winning your home race,'' Kanaan said. "I don't even want to think about it, but I always make fun of Helio that he cries a lot and gets emotional, but I think I would get emotional.''

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