Indianapolis No group of drivers in the IndyCar Series is more close-knit than the five teammates at Andretti Green Racing, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Tony Kanaan.
At 32, Kanaan doesn't really feel like a grizzled veteran, but the 2004 series champion is not only racing for wins and another title, he is playing the role of mentor to 20-year-old Marco Andretti and 25-year-old Danica Patrick, a newcomer to the team.
"They gave me this role of teaching people, which I never thought I was going to do because I'm not the most patient guy," Kanaan said Thursday as the team readied his car for the third day of practice for the May 27 Indianapolis 500. "But, when we talk about racing, it's easy to teach somebody that has talent.
"I can brag about how we did help (former teammate) Dan (Wheldon) and how we're helping Marco and Danica. We're just trying to shorten their way of making steps. But I can't drive the cars for them or make decisions for them. So they made my life much easier by being so talented."
He spent a good portion of Tuesday's opening practice moving back and forth between the cars of his two young teammates, setting them up for the highspeed Indy oval.
"That was neat," Kanaan said. "Getting in different cars, each one feels a little different. Then, when Marco and Danica got out there, they were pretty quick."
Asked if the younger drivers always listen to his advice, Kanaan grinned and said, "Sometimes not.
"As a talented and very competitive race car driver, you sometimes say, 'What the hell is this guy talking about?' It's like raising your kids. You say, 'Don't do that, you're going to hurt yourself.' He goes out there and twists his ankle. So next time you say, 'Hey kid, don't do that, you'll hurt yourself.' Maybe he's going to listen this time.
"When I say, 'Don't do that because it's going to hurt your tires,' they might say, 'No way.' Ten laps later, here I come and, zoom, I go by. I just look at them and say, 'I told you."'
Team co-owner and longtime driving star Michael Andretti - Marco's father - is the one who has designated the outgoing and fun-loving Brazilian to be a coach, much like the job four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears plays at Penske Racing.
"Michael has been using me more on that side, to help Danica, to help Marco to keep it together," Kanaan said. "It is kind of a Rick Mears kind of things. But, by no means am I saying, I'm like Rick because he's accomplished so much more than I have, but I like this role."
And it hasn't slowed Kanaan down.
Heading into Thursday's practice, he was sixth on the speed chart with a fast lap of 224.622 mph.
Kanaan, who has yet to start worse than fifth in five previous Indy races, said it's unlikely he will be able to match the pole he won here in 2005, considering how strong former teammate and 2005 Indy winner Wheldon has been so far.
Wheldon, who has won two of the first four IndyCar Series races this season, posted the top speeds the first two days of practice at 226.391.