Pocono INDYCAR 400

A tribute to Target’s 100 wins in racing

Leave a comment

Target has been an integral part of racing for more than 20 years, in association with Chip Ganassi Racing. As it secured its 100th win this weekend, here are some of the monumental wins in that time frame:

SURFERS’ PARADISE 1994: ANDRETTI TAKES A NUMBER OF FIRSTS

After years of domination by Team Penske and Newman/Haas Racing with Penske and Lola chassis and Chevrolet and Ford Cosworth engines, the then-upstart Target Chip Ganassi Racing team opened its 1994 IndyCar account with a win by Michael Andretti in a Reynard-Ford on the streets of Surfers’ Paradise, Australia. The win was Reynard’s first in IndyCar and was a nice return for Andretti, after his one-year sojourn into Formula One with McLaren.

U.S. 500 1996: VASSER WINS $1 MILLION

Jimmy Vasser’s run to the 1996 IndyCar championship included wins in four of the first six races, culminating with a win at the U.S. 500 at the Michigan International Speedway and a $1 million prize. The race ran several hundred miles away from the Indianapolis 500 in the first of the split years between CART and the new-for-1996 Indy Racing League, and unfortunately for CART, a massive accident occurred before the start in Michigan. But once green, Vasser and teammate Alex Zanardi dominated the race.

LAGUNA SECA 1996: “THE PASS.”

We could write thousands of words about the legendary move Alex Zanardi pulled at Bryan Herta at the Corkscrew, but what’s the point? The video below tells you all you need to know.

CLEVELAND 1997, LONG BEACH 1998: ZANARDI’S ICONIC COMEBACKS

After being trapped at the back of the pack at the Burke Lakefront Airport in 1997 and again on the streets of Long Beach the following year, Zanardi scythed through the field on both occasions for two memorable wins.

INDY, MILWAUKEE 2000: MONTOYA DOES THE DOUBLE

Juan Pablo Montoya and the Target team shifted cars to IRL-spec chassis for the 2000 Indianapolis 500, and promptly kicked everyone’s rear ends. A week later, back in his now normal Lola-Toyota after years with the Reynard-Honda package, Montoya took Toyota’s first CART win at the Milwaukee Mile.

TEXAS 2002: WARD BY A NOSE

One of the closest wins secured in Target Ganassi’s history came from Jeff Ward, at the summer Texas IRL race in 2002. Ward edged Al Unser Jr. by 0.011 of a second for his only IRL victory.

HOMESTEAD 2003: DIXON TAKES IRL OPENER

Then 22, and in his first race in IRL machinery after the team shifted its entire operations from CART to the IRL, Scott Dixon opened the 2003 season with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the last year before the track’s reconfiguration to add higher banks in the turns.

WATKINS GLEN 2005: DIXON BREATHES NEW LIFE INTO PROGRAM

The Ganassi/Toyota partnership struggled through trying seasons in 2004 and 2005, and was on the verge of back-to-back winless seasons as an organization before Dixon saved them with a win on the road course at Watkins Glen. Then-teammate Giorgio Pantano finished fourth in the race.

HOMESTEAD, CHICAGO 2006: WHELDON’S BOOK-ENDS

Ganassi signed 2005 Indianapolis 500 and IRL champion Dan Wheldon to partner Dixon ahead of 2006 and the Englishman won the first and last rounds of the season. Homestead came in a photo finish over Helio Castroneves, and Chicagoland after a duel the entire race with Castroneves, Dixon and Sam Hornish Jr. Wheldon lost the championship to Hornish on a tie-breaker.

INDY 500 2008: DIXON RETURNS CGR TO THE PROMISED LAND

It had been since 2000 for Target Chip Ganassi Racing to win at Indianapolis before Dixon delivered the victory in 2008 ‘500, one of a series-high six en route to his second series title.

HOMESTEAD 2009: SLOW IS FAST FOR FRANCHITTI

Running at a slower pace to make more fuel mileage, Dario Franchitti mastered the game at the season finale at Homestead to take his fifth win of his return season to IndyCar and first in the Target Ganassi stable, to secure his second series championship. It set him on a charge of winning each of the next three.

INDY 500 2010: FRANCHITTI’S DOMINANCE ON DISPLAY

A day Franchitti ran on rails with one of the best set-up cars in his illustrious career. He led 155 of 200 laps en route to his second Indianapolis 500 victory.

TORONTO 2011: A ONE-TWO IN TORONTO AS MORE STORES OPEN

Toronto 2011 had drama, with a battle between Franchitti and championship rival Will Power, and eventually ended in a 1-2 finish for the Target team as the store was expanding its market share into Canada. Believe it or not, this is the last road or street race Franchitti has won in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

INDY 500 2012: ANOTHER FRANCHITTI WIN IN DRAMATIC FASHION

This one came after Takuma Sato interrupted the planned Target Ganassi 1-2 up front. But Sato went for it on Franchitti, who played the race craft game to perfection in allowing Sato just enough room to try the move into Turn 1 on the last lap but not too much as if to squeeze him. Sato lost it, and the rest is history as Franchitti joined the list of three-time Indianapolis 500 winners.

POCONO 2013: 100 COMES WITH A GANASSI 1-2-3

Dixon, a staple of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing empire since 2002, was the one who hit the bullseye to secure the 100th win in Pocono, Pa., Ganassi’s home state. Charlie Kimball in second and Franchitti in third just made for icing on the cake.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence that on the same weekend Target won its 100th race as a sponsor, its founder, Douglas Dayton, died at the age of 88. Dayton, a Wayzata, Minn. native, died Friday after a long bout with cancer.

CJ Wilson completes first test in Porsche GT3 Cup car

gt3test1editweb
Photo courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing
Leave a comment

CJ Wilson’s new career is officially underway, following his retirement from professional baseball and now having completed his first test last week at Texas World Speedway in his new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Wilson, who formally announced the news he’d be transitioning into racing full-time during Rolex 24 at Daytona race week, did a two-day test at the still active oval/road course combo track in College Station, Texas. Wilson tested one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports (the team runs two in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) and then advanced into the Cup car.

Wilson got fairly close to teammate Marc Miller’s times during the test as he acclimated to both the Cup car and the Yokohama tires.

“It’s great to take another step towards my goals,” Wilson said. “We had a chance to burn through two sets of tires today and I made a lot of progress. Having Marc as my coach was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms. Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team, I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session.

“The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. TWS is a really fast and bumpy track. Looking forward to getting back in the car in ten days and pick up where I left off.”

Miller added, “CJ did great job, but I expected as much. He is logical and methodical which makes him easy to help and that translated into a very quick progression along the learning curve. Like any professional athlete though he is never truly satisfied because he wants to be perfect. He took quickly to the new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. Overall, it was a successful first outing and I look forward to working with CJ this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I’m likely fired.”

A teaser of on-board footage is below, along with a couple other social posts from the test:

Danny Watts: ‘Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  (l to r) Strakka Racing drivers Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane pose during the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship Photo Call on March 22, 2013 at Potters Fields in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Watts (left) with Leventis and Kane in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sports car veteran driver Danny Watts has announced his retirement from active competition, but is in the news for an entirely different reason on Monday.

The 37-year-old Brit has announced he’s gay, penning a first-person piece for the Huffington Post and also doing interviews with both Daily Sportscar and Autosport. The latter article features a well-written op-ed from author Matt Beer.

In the Huffington Post piece, Watts, an eight-time starter and 2010 LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, wrote that hiding his sexuality in the heavily white male heterosexual world of motorsport was simply becoming too much to keep under wraps.

“There isn’t any one moment that stands out in my mind as the moment I realized I would need to live in the closet if I wanted my motorsport career to go anywhere; it was just a general feeling I got,” Watts wrote.

“All the other guys in the paddock had girlfriends, so I got one to blend in. When that relationship ended, I got another one, and so I continued pretending to be straight for seventeen years.

“Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain.

“I hope that there are a few people who are supportive. If the response I’ve had from the queer motorsport community thus far is any gauge, I feel hopeful that I’ll find a supportive group to start driving change for my queer siblings in the sport I love.”

Within the motorsports world, Watts’ name is best known to the sports car paddock, and he was a regular with the Strakka Racing team alongside co-drivers Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis. But he isn’t particularly known to the racing world at large.

This announcement comes as Watts has opted to call time on his full-time driving career and instead will focus on coaching for the future. It also represents one of the higher profile names in racing announcing his sexual orientation, which makes it newsworthy.

Despite some detractors (as you might expect), a number of other drivers and key motorsports figures have revealed their support for Watts, and why this news matters, on social media today:

Marino Franchitti returns to Mazda at Sebring

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15:  Left to right, Marino Franchitti, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett celebrate after winning the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Franchitti (left) won at Sebring in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marino Franchitti will make his return to a Mazda entry for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be run March 18, as third driver in the team’s No. 70 Mazda RT24-P with Joel Miller and Tom Long.

The Scotsman competed in the team’s RX-8 and 6 models in the GT ranks but has been out of a drive since his role with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing last season in one of the team’s Ford GTs in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Franchitti replaces James Hinchcliffe, who was the third driver in the No. 70 car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll test for the team later this week at Sebring prior to the race run in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the year.

“A big part of those results are being with great teams and having great teammates. I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Franchitti, who co-drove to win overall at Sebring in 2014. “I love driving there, I always have since the first laps I did. It’s a proper old-school track. If you go over the limit, you crash, simple as that, rather than going onto some tarmac run-off like many tracks. I love the challenge of walking that tightrope. Of course, there’s the challenge of the bumps too, trying to get the car to handle over them and the beating the car and driver takes. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to endurance test their cars here, it’s the ultimate test of a vehicle and its durability.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s so cool to be coming back into the Mazda family,” said Franchitti. “Like everyone else, I was blown away when I saw the first shots of the RT24-P and how incredible it looks, so there’s a lot of excitement at getting to drive it. I’m relieved I get a chance to test the car, as many times I’ve just jumped in and raced, so this is a bit of a luxury! Being a part of the development process of a car is something I’ve been lucky enough to do several times and it’s something I really love.”

Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan added, “He’s a proven winner there, and he’s been a part of the Mazda family for years. Just look at his record at Sebring! He has the experience that can really help our team. Because he’s driven with Mazda before, we know his personality is a great fit. That’s important to us, and it goes a long way in helping the team chemistry remain strong. He’s a great fit with Tom [Long] and Joel [Miller], just as Spencer Pigot has been great with Nunez and Bomarito.”

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

imsa_29034978
Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.