Castroneves and Kanaan celebrate 20th year in Indy cars

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan have known each other so long, they share a favorite story from childhood they both tell nearly verbatim.

They were about 12, on vacation in Brazil, and met a pretty girl. Castroneves called her, with Kanaan sitting next to him and coaching him along. Kanaan advised Castroneves to be direct, advice he probably took too seriously.

The duo never heard from her again.

That was nearly 30 years ago, and the two Brazilians are still together, at the top of their profession, and celebrating their 20th season in IndyCar together. Kanaan has made this a commemorative year, with hats and stickers to celebrate the occasion.

Castroneves? Well, he wanted it to be a little more under the radar.

''I think he wants people to know, but I don't,'' Castroneves said Friday. ''But somehow people now know, and I am like, `Darnit, man, why you gotta do that? Now everybody knows we are old.'''

Castroneves turns 43 next month, Kanaan is only seven months younger. They are the elder statesman of the series and sport serious hardware for their efforts. Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Kanaan has one Indy 500 title and a series championship.

Kanaan also holds the record for consecutive starts with 265.

Neither driver is feeling their age as they head into Sunday's race through the streets of Long Beach.

''In my mind, I'm still very young,'' Kanaan said. ''I take care of myself a lot. I think I'm still in the game. I think I still I had a decent season last year, despite not getting a win. As long as I feel this way, I'm going to keep going.''

Yet both their team owners are admittedly already looking to an eventual future in which neither driver is full-time in Indy cars.

Roger Penske last month said he's got Castroneves - along with Juan Pablo Montoya - on a short list of drivers for a potential sports car team. Chip Ganassi said Friday that when Kanaan is finished in IndyCar, he'll likely continue with the organization in a different role.

''Longevity in the sport has its rewards,'' Ganassi said.

Castroneves said he'll do whatever Penske needs, but insisted he's fit enough to drive in this series another seven to eight years. He also said he's still chasing his first career championship, and doesn't want to stop running the Indianapolis 500, where he's trying to join an exclusive club of four-time winners.

Kanaan has the same hesitation about his career. He doesn't know when he'll be done full-time racing in IndyCar, but like Castroneves, does not want to give up the Indy 500 or competing. He has a Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona victory with Ganassi, and wants to add to his resume.

''I would love to look around and do the IMSA program and do Le Mans,'' he said. ''Winning (the Rolex 24) was great. The 500 was great, and the championship. But now, I think I want to have the opportunity to do Le Mans.

''So, some IMSA, maybe WEC, but I'd probably stay around sports cars and maybe do the 500 once a year, that would be ideal.''

For now, both drivers are looking only to Sunday and the prestigious 34th running through the streets of Long Beach. Kanaan is winless in the event, while Castroneves went to victory lane in 2001.

After that, they will both begin gearing up in earnest for the Indianapolis 500. They are among the most popular drivers in the series, the most popular at Indy, and are always contenders to win.

They've made this journey simultaneously, and take pride that their friendship has never suffered as they climbed the ranks of racing. Castroneves said their relationship is opposite of what you see in the James Hunt movie ''Rush'' in which he had a bitter rivalry with Nikki Lauda at the height of their Formula One careers.

''We see those movies about two kids growing, competing against each other, being teammates, being friends, fighting and all of a sudden 20 years later, we've succeeded,'' Castroneves. ''We always wanted each other to succeed. I literally used to stay in his place, we vacationed together, and it's a great story.

''We always made a bet, whoever succeeded, the other one would help out the other - like carry the helmet. I'm glad nobody has won this bet because nobody wants to carry anyone's helmet.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.