Kimball, Franchitti join Ganassi podium sweep

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One week from returning to Toronto, where he scored a career-best runner-up finish last season, Charlie Kimball has matched that result today with a second-place effort at Pocono Raceway.

After the final pit stops of the afternoon were completed, Kimball, who started 12th, found himself in the lead with 29 laps remaining. He would lose the lead to Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon one lap later, and chased the former Indianapolis 500 winner to the checkered flag, losing out by less than half a second.

Still, the third-year American driver was pleased following his second Top-5 run of the season. He also surely impressed the group of families from sponsor Novo Nordisk’s North American headquarters, which made the two-hour trip north from New Jersey to cheer him on.

“Both Thursday at the [Open Test] and then yesterday, we really focused on our race car,” said Kimball. “The team [and] the whole Chip Ganassi Racing crew, as evidence by [the 1-2-3 finish], was focusing on race day, knowing that’s when it mattered.  So throughout today, the guys made it better on each pit stop and the car just got quicker and quicker. A lot of credit to Honda – they gave us the fuel mileage and speed to get it done. All I had to do was pedal the car around.”

“It was a lot of fun. When you get a good car like that and running up front, it’s always fun.”

Right behind Kimball and completing the all-Ganassi podium was Dario Franchitti, who has struggled at times this year but netted a third-place finish after starting 20th due to an engine penalty.

“We went for a very aggressive setup, very low downforce,” said Franchitti, who earned his best result since running fifth in Race 2 of last month’s doubleheader in Detroit.

“When I get some kind of gap, I could run some fast laps. The Honda today – it’s so good on fuel mileage, and that really, really helped us. I could catch back up Charlie in spots, but I couldn’t do anything with him because of the aggressive setup we ran.”

Franchitti credited his charge from the back of the field to a variety of reasons.

“A lot of it is timing and momentum – you’re trying to keep the momentum up, but the car’s sliding and your brain’s telling you to lift,” Franchitti said. “Then you gotta keep your foot down.

“Some momentum passes and definitely some strategy with the Honda fuel mileage, some great pit stops from my guys, and just some hard racing too. I definitely made some moves out there.”

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Friday notebook

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – Teams have loaded in for this weekend’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with testing set all day on Saturday and Sunday for all three rungs of the series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Some notes from the day are below.

  • Pabst Racing has been busy with testing its new Tatuus PM-18 in recent weeks, to add to its trio of USF-17s. The team has two PM-18 chassis with one completed and built up, and which Calvin Ming will test this weekend. Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team won the team championship in USF2000 this season.
  • Look for Ayla Agren to test Pabst’s PM-18 next week for several days. The talented Indianapolis-based Norwegian/Swede is a past F1600 champion and has raced in parts of the last three USF2000 seasons with Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing; Agren is working on stepping up into Pro Mazda next season.
  • Another intriguing Pabst USF2000 product this weekend is New Zealander Hunter McElrea, a 17-year-old go-kart veteran who completed his first season of car racing this year in Australian Formula Ford. He was unlucky to only end fourth in the year’s championship, with several poles and wins but a bit of inconsistency that cost him the title. His father, Andy McElrea, has been in the U.S. before moving back home, where he’s enjoyed success as a driver, engineer and team director. The younger McElrea said he “learned heaps” this year and is optimistic of building a budget to come Stateside in 2018, and said it was a bit surreal to have his first real run at IMS. Born in the U.S., McElrea holds both U.S. and New Zealand dual citizenship.
  • Arguably the busiest driver in the month or so since the Watkins Glen season finale has been Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who’s had several Pro Mazda tests with three different teams (Pabst, Juncos Racing and Exclusive Autosport) and will run this weekend with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights, and will work with engineer Kent Boyer. VeeKay would succeed in North America for a second year, as he contemplates whether to move up from USF2000 into Pro Mazda or emulate RC Enerson in going from USF2000 straight to Indy Lights. VeeKay’s No. 4 car was Shelby Blackstock’s chassis from the 2017 season.
  • Teammate Nico Jamin, who was busy with several different types of cars this year besides his primary role in Indy Lights, will test Belardi’s No. 5 car, which was Santiago Urrutia’s chassis, and work with engineer Tim Neff. Jamin got the call a couple weeks ago and has come back from his home country of France, where he’s been since shortly after the season ended.
  • The third Belardi car, the No. 9 car still in the Mazda “soul red” livery for 2016 Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz, is on site this weekend. Telitz will test with RJB Motorsports’ USF2000 team – the car having been returned from ArmsUp Motorsports for this test – and the Birchwood, Wis. native will have the chance to work with open-wheel veterans Alex Barron and Mirl Swan as part of RJB’s crew. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Telitz also running in other cars and series this weekend.
  • At least for this test, Cape Motorsports’ Pro Mazda car has a cool “magic 8 ball” livery for Oliver Askew. The primarily black with some white paint scheme probably wouldn’t stay that way provided Mazda’s scholarship comes with the switch to a “soul red” livery once the season properly commences.
  • Jake Craig, who will test with Newman Wachs Racing this test, has been awarded the eKartingNews.com Karting Entry Ticket for this year’s Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The 19-year-old native of Mission Viejo, Calif. is the 12th driver who has a confirmed ticket so far for the shootout, which takes place in December in Arizona.
  • Colton Herta is in a funny spot with regards to World Series preference depending on whether the New York Yankees or Houston Astros wins tonight’s Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, as the Yankees lead the series 3-2 heading into tonight’s game and look to advance to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Herta grew up a Dodgers fan but his Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team features team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV, son of Hank Steinbrenner, and the Steinbrenners of course are the Yankees’ principal owners. Perhaps it’s a good problem to have?
  • Myles Rowe, who’s won three races in six starts in the Lucas Oil School of Racing, will be in one of John Cummiskey Racing’s Tatuus USF-17 chassis this weekend. The Smyrna, Ga. native has a good head on his shoulders and could well impress.