DETROIT — Tony Kanaan’s bucket list is about to get shorter.
Time to prepare for the opportunity is short, too.
The 42-year-old Brazilian IndyCar driver is making his Le Mans debut, replacing the injured Sebastien Bourdais on the defending class winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in just two weeks.
“I’ve never even been there,” Kanaan said before competing in a pair of Detroit Grand Prix races. “I don’t know any of the turns so I’m going to try to learn as much as I can before I get to the real thing.”
After racing in the IndyCar’s only doubleheader this weekend, Kanaan will fly to North Carolina to spend up to five hours in a simulator. Then, he’s off to Texas — where he said “all of my sponsors are,” — for a busy stretch off the track before getting on it next week at Texas Motor Speedway. Following the prime-time race, Kanaan will fly to France.
“I’ll get in another simulator, that all rookies have to do, over there and then will show up at the race track to see what I can do,” he said. “It’s going to be a little hectic.”
The 2004 IndyCar champion and 17-time winner has shown he still has it this year, ranking No. 6 in series points with a top-five finish and three in the top 10.
Kanaan has experience in sports cars, playing a part for the winning team at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson two years ago. Kanaan has been in the Ford GT this year and led laps in the Rolex 24, but acknowledged nothing can truly get him ready for the challenge of competing at Le Mans for the first time.
“I talked to Dixon and teammates and they just tell me to relax and try to learn as much as I can,” he said. “But, it’s not an ideal situation, jumping in this late.”
Kanaan will be on a team with Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, who Bourdais raced with to win the GTE Pro Class victory last season. Bourdais, from Le Mans, broke his pelvis, a hip and two ribs in a crash at Indianapolis during qualifying for the Indy 500.
While Kanaan isn’t happy an injury created the opportunity, he no longer has to be jealous of teammates that have raced at Le Mans.
Marco Andretti is glad his friend is getting the shot, too.
“It’s a heck of an experience and he’s well-deserving of the seat,” Andretti said. “The straightaways are very long and you don’t get a lot of laps so you need to really, really know the track. And at night, it’s easy to lose your bearings.”
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