Tony Kanaan wants a McLaren – and another Indy 500 win

Last year, on his 12th attempt, then 38-year-old Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500. After covering himself with the contents of a bottle of milk and a wreath – the traditional trappings of an Indy win – he set to work orchestrating a repeat.

The race will take place in Indiana on 25 May in what is claimed by promoters to be “the largest single day sporting event in the world.”

Kanaan also just happens to be a charmer, as he proved during a chat at a steakhouse in New York’s Times Square, where he discussed his pre-race strategy, his resemblance to Vin Diesel, how he avoids cursing out stalker fans, and the challenges of remaining hydrated at 230mph.

Brett Berk: It took 12 tries to earn your first Indy victory. What makes you confident it won’t take 12 more to secure the next one?

Tony Kanaan: First of all, I don’t have 12 more. I’d be 52 then.

Asked what goes through his mind while he’s rounding the track, Indy driver Will Powers once said, ‘I hope to hell this car sticks!’ What goes through your head?

Well, I don’t think about stuff like that. When I’m there, I enjoy. Every time I go through the corner really fast and I don’t have to lift, I think, ‘it’s so cool and I want to do it again.’ I’m like a little kid that wants to ride the roller coaster again and again. I think, ‘I have the coolest job in the world.’ I’m nervous before the race, but I don’t think about things during the race. The day I start worrying like that, I will have to do something else.

Before a race, runners carbo-load, wrestlers try to sweat stuff out. What is your pre-race eating regimen?

I have a pretty good balanced diet, a mix of protein and carbs, and I supplement with hydration, with salts, so as not to cramp. It is not much different than any triathlete or cyclist [Kanann should know; he frequently competes in gruelling Ironman triathlons]. People don’t realise, but we’re in the car for three hours and you can’t eat during those three hours. There is no other sport where an athlete can’t eat anything at all – well, we have water, but it is hard to drink at 230mph. We lose about four pounds during every race, or more depending on how hot the day is.

Did you add any street cars to your personal collection after your win last year?

Yeah, I got the new Corvette C7 Stingray, which was the pace car of the race. You get one automatically as a winner. I have a pretty good car collection: a Ferrari 458, a Porsche Carrera GT, the Mercedes C63 Black Series. But the Corvette is the latest addition. It’s the same colour as the pace car, and I got stickers from the race. When I drive around, people look. One guy asked, ‘did you buy it like that?’ I said I got it for free. He said, ‘for free, I’d take it in any colour –  even Mary Kay pink.'

What is topping your car wish-list?

I would love to get the new McLaren P1, or the LaFerrari, which is impossible to get. Obviously, having so many cars these days, it’s hard to convince my wife that I need another. So, we’ll see. If I win the 500 again this year…

What’s this year’s pace car?

It’s the Camaro Z/28. If I win, I get that. But I want to convince my wife that I need something in addition.

If someone were to cast your biopic in Hollywood, who would play you?

Vin Diesel, come on. We look alike. We connected last year around Indy. He’s invited me to the end of filming of Fast and Furious 7, and if there’s an 8, he said wants me to be in it. I’ve been in Driven already, in 2001 with Sylvester Stallone. It’s funny, they also asked me what drivers do before the race starts. I said I take a nap. So, my scene is taking a nap on the couch. It’s all I do.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you in a car?

In a racecar? The worst thing a racecar driver can do is crash in his garage. That’s bad. So, I hit the pit wall in front of my boss. In 1993, it was in Italy. Actually, I was underneath him; he was standing above. It was a rainy day, and as I pulled out, I spun and went straight into the wall.

In a street car? I was driving in Brazil, and I noticed that a guy was following me. I turn right, he turns right; I turn left, he turns left. I stop, he stops. I was starting to get pissed, and he finally pulls up beside me. I was about to go, ‘what the hell?’ And he was actually just a big fan. I didn’t know what to do. I ended up apologising, I said I was going to tell him to go to hell. I parked quickly and we took a picture, but I almost flipped him off. He must have seen me in traffic. Since then, every car I have, I tint the windows.