Ganassi rebuttal to Penske could include TK, Hinch, or another wild card

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Roger Penske’s made his next move for the 2014 IZOD IndyCar Series with the signing of Juan Pablo Montoya. And now we await the rebuttal from Penske’s archrival Chip Ganassi, if he opts to bring back a fourth full-time car.

Some Ganassi team officials have said this year that a four-car program – two apiece between the Target team and the Novo Nordisk and other sponsor (NTT Data 2013, Service Central 2011-2012) second squad – makes more sense as an overall program in terms of data and resource sharing.

With three full-time cars this year, though, Charlie Kimball’s maturation and development has increased in the Novo Nordisk camp. He’s been working in greater harmony with Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti than he did in his first two seasons, 2011 and 2012, in the second squad.

Anyway, there seem to be four options for Ganassi’s fourth car in 2014, if it returns after a year’s hiatus:

  • Tony Kanaan. The Indianapolis 500 champ gives Ganassi another bullet at Indy, of course, and his oval ability remains near the top of the grid. He and Franchitti gelled as teammates at Andretti Green Racing half a decade before, and Kanaan wouldn’t have to be the “setup mule” he’s often needed to be in his final Andretti years and at KV Racing Technology-SH, his current squad. On the downside, his qualifying on road and street courses the last few years has left something to be desired, although that’s largely down to KV’s erratic form. The car would be there if TK can scrounge together the sponsorship, though.
  • James Hinchcliffe. From a long-term growth standpoint, “Hinch” is your better option. Why, you ask? At 26, he’s just entering the prime years of his driving career and at 28 or 29, in a couple years, he’d be ready to move into one of the Target cars and be the face of the franchise. Target is keen to expand in Canada and Oakville’s “Mayor of Hinchtown” would be an excellent face. That said, he’s played a big role in the improved chemistry at Andretti Autosport, and has thrived with engineer Craig Hampson – it’s doubtful that on the surface, he’d want to leave those surroundings.
  • Ryan Briscoe. The anti-Montoya move, if you will. Briscoe was a Ganassi driver first, enduring a challenging rookie season in 2005. He had varying levels of success at Penske from 2008 through 2012 but never won a title, most notably missing out in 2009. He returned to CGR at this year’s Indianapolis 500 and while the team still rates him highly, he’s more likely to take the seat at Panther Racing for 2014.
  • The Montoya “out of left field” option. If budget weren’t the issue, you’d love to see a Justin Wilson, a Sebastien Bourdais or a Simon Pagenaud in the Ganassi stable next year. But of those three, Pagenaud seems set to stay with Schmidt Hamilton in 2014 and Wilson is contracted to Dale Coyne Racing for three years.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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