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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Kanaan behind wheel at Indy

Broken arm not slowing Andretti Green Racing driver

May 7, 2003

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— Tony Kanaan got behind the wheel Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just over three weeks after he broke his left arm in a crash in Japan.

"It feels good, I tell you," the Brazilian said after 40 practice laps. "I felt better the first two laps I did than my win at Phoenix. I'm very happy to be back."

After winning the Phoenix race, Kanaan was injured in the IRL's Indy Japan 300 April 13. He had surgery two days later, and there was concern on his Andretti Green Racing team whether he'd be able to practice before the start of Indy 500 qualifications Saturday.

But he received medical clearance to drive Monday, and Tuesday he was back on the track ahead of schedule.

Getting back without missing a race is especially important because he's second in IRL points, just four behind Scott Sharp. Kanaan, who started from the pole in the first two races, was the points leader before he crashed into Scott Dixon late in the Japan race.

The victory and the series lead then went to Sharp.

"It was a long month for me working on my arm to get back," Kanaan said. "Obviously, it was a big help with the doctors here in Indianapolis and myself working hard to give me the possibility to come back so soon."

He said he felt no pain in his arm while driving the car.

"I have a brace on, so it's very protected. And my leg, it just hurts me a little bit when I walk, but not when I drive."

Kanaan had a top speed of 229.894 mph in Tuesday's practice. His Andretti Green Racing teammates, Dan Wheldon and Michael Andretti, were among seven drivers who topped 230 mph, the biggest jump in speed since the track opened Sunday.

"It's good, but it's a long month," said Wheldon, who set the pace with a top lap of 231.108 mph. "The team has done a fine job. We have to make sure it continues. It's always special to be fastest, especially at Indianapolis, but it really doesn't mean too much."

Gil de Ferran, Tomas Scheckter, Dixon, Kenny Brack and Tora Takagi also were above 230. Kanaan, two-time defending Indy champion Helio Castroneves and Felipe Giaffone were above 229. Sharp, former winner Al Unser Jr., defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. and rookies Buddy Rice and A.J. Foyt IV were above 228.

"It's my first day. It's fast enough," Kanaan said. "It's not the best speed out there, but I'm not in a hurry. I'm two days ahead of schedule when I was supposed to drive, because the arm felt so good. We're getting to where we need to be, but we have to pace ourselves so not to get too excited and try to be the fastest guy out there today. We need to learn about the car.

"I missed two days, so I'm catching up."

Kanaan's IRL debut was in the Indy 500 last year, when he started fifth and led 23 laps before a crash on the 89th left him with a finish of 28th.

Also Tuesday, Shigeaki Hattori was hospitalized because of a concussion and a broken little finger of his left hand after a crash during practice.

He was admitted to Methodist Hospital for further tests and was awake and alert, speedway medical director Dr. Henry Bock said.

The 39-year-old Japanese driver was practicing at about 220 mph when he lost control of his Toyota-powered Dallara coming out of the first turn. The car slid backward into the outside wall, spun across the track and hit the inside wall with its rear.

Hattori remained conscious and was quickly out of the car. It was the first crash since practice for the May 25 Indy 500 began Sunday.

Hattori was 20th as a rookie at Indianapolis last year.

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