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After Le Mans, Kanaan on familiar ground

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Genaro C. Armas, Associated Press

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Tony Kanaan feels like a veteran again this weekend at Road America.

In France last week, the 42-year-old with 20 years of Indy car experience was treated like a rookie.

Subbing for injured driver Sebastien Bourdais, Kanaan drove the No. 68 Ford GT for his Chip Ganassi Racing team and finished sixth in class in his first ride at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"Obviously at this point in my career, to be called a rookie was quite funny," Kanaan said with a laugh.

He is on more familiar ground at Road America, which will host the 220-mile Kohler Grand Prix on Sunday.

Kanaan has made six starts at the rural Wisconsin road course, including three top-five finishes. He was second to Will Power in the series' return to the track last year.

No wonder this 14-turn course is one of Kanaan's favorite stops on the schedule. Elevation changes and three intriguing straightaways add to the appeal. So do the impromptu trips for drivers into the campgrounds to interact with fans.

"It puts a smile on my face," Kanaan said this week. "From the fans, to the racetrack itself and how fast it is, to the atmosphere ... everything about it is fun."

After a second-place finish two weeks ago in Fort Worth, Kanaan hopes he can keep the momentum going at Road America. It was Kanaan's second top-five finish in four races since the Indianapolis 500 last month.

Kanaan is eighth in the points entering this weekend, 63 points behind leader and teammate Scott Dixon.

"We had a very different beginning of the season for me. We had a couple misfortunes ... I've been looking to turn the situation around. We've been doing that since Indy," Kanaan said. "Now is the time. We have the momentum, this is the time and we have good experience on this track."

It is a course that drivers say provides enjoyable challenges that differ from the kind of neck-and-neck racing often found at ovals like Texas Motor Speedway.

"It's definitely a challenging track, but I think that everybody enjoys this race," Helio Castroneves said Saturday before qualifying.

Road America will be the first Verizon IndyCar Series race since the tumultuous TMS stop June 10. Kanaan got blamed -- and penalized -- for a big wreck before he recovered from being two laps down to get his fifth runner-up finish in Fort Worth.

Kanaan apologized after the race.

"I think you move on pretty quickly in this sport," Power, who won at TMS, said when asked if any hard feelings lingered among drivers.

Kanaan, who has earned the nickname "Ironman," is primed to make his 275th consecutive start, a streak that dates to 2001 at Portland.

His team was working on issues with setup on its No. 10 Honda during practice this weekend. He will start in a season-worst 16th position following a disappointing qualifying session Saturday.

As for Le Mans, he wouldn't mind making another trip, though preferably under different circumstances.

"Definitely want to do it again if the opportunity comes up for sure," Kanaan said. But "no desire to take [Bourdais'] place at all."

Mario, A.J., Helio

Helio Castroneves won the pole, turning a lap in 1 minute, 41.30 seconds at 142.649 mph. It was his 50th career pole and third of the season. Castroneves edged Power by 0.06 seconds.

Castroneves broke a tie for third on the career list with Bobby Unser. Only Mario Andretti (67) and A.J. Foyt (53) have more poles.

"He just gets faster as he gets older," Power said. "He's like wine."

Back in the U.S.

Mikhail Aleshin finally got behind the wheel of his No. 7 Honda after his trip was delayed by a visa issue in France. The Russian will start 19th.

"I'm happy I got the visa. I'm happy to race for this team, in this series, in this country," Aleshin said.

Aleshin found out after flying to the United States that his luggage was lost by an airline. Aleshin took part in the final practice on Saturday morning.