Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves

Respect drives Penske-Ganassi rivalry – but is that enough?

Leave a comment

Open-wheel racing’s preeminent rivalry is not fueled by bitterness, but by mutual respect.

Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing have continually challenged each other for glory in the form of race wins and series championships, and in doing so, they have set themselves apart as two of the most successful squads in the history of the sport.

But instead of having their constant struggle for supremacy be tinged by acrimony, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi’s groups have, by and large, kept things gentlemanly.

Oh, rest assured that they definitely want to beat each other. And there have been the inevitable occasional flare-ups – in fact, the most recent ones came just this past summer with TCGR’s Scott Dixon and Penske’s Will Power involved in twin incidents at Sonoma and then again at Baltimore.

But for the two teams, it all comes back to admiration for their collective ability to contend week in and week out.

“That’s what drives us, to be honest about it, and I think that’s what drives us to be with them race in and race out, wheel to wheel, every weekend, because that’s the measure,” TCGR managing director Mike Hull said during an IndyCar teleconference on Tuesday in advance of Saturday night’s season-ending MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“There are other teams that we race against that do the same job, but what you have to do is you have to create a mindset that you’re going to do the job season in and season out, and that’s what we saw in Penske Racing when we tried to form the organization that we formed.”

In another sign of cordiality, Penske team president Tim Cindric then proceeded to thank Hull for those comments before noting how both teams “have the resources and the ability to attract the best people” and set themselves apart from the rest in the paddock.

“I think that’s the mindset that both groups have, is that second isn’t good enough, and that’s what you need,” Cindric said. “But the difference really is the people that I think both groups have and the continuity that we have with not only our sponsors but our people.

“The people certainly make the difference because they’re the ones that really execute on race day or they don’t.  But I think the reason why we’re all involved in it really is just the passion we have for the sport.”

Together, the two teams have become the major forces in the IZOD IndyCar Series, winning a combined 60 of 84 races over the last five years. Additionally, they have earned a combined six series championships since 2003; Ganassi has five, Penske has one.

And after Saturday, the Penske/Ganassi bloc will have added a seventh crown over the last decade. Dixon and Penske’s three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves are the last men standing, with Dixon holding a 25-point lead going into the final race of 2013; a finish of fifth or better at ACS will seal the deal for him.

So, Penske vs. Ganassi is, once again, the title fight. One could think that such a repeated occurrence could lead to a sense of ennui between the teams.

Not so.

“Mike and I have both been on teams that don’t run up at the front, and it just seems so far away,” Cindric explained. “You know, it just seems so difficult to get there, and when you are there, sometimes you get somewhat immune to it and you catch yourself maybe thinking, ‘Hey, is this really worth it or is this really what I signed up to do?'”

“And that thought goes away pretty quickly, because you realize what it’s like to be on the other side of it, and I guess I call it the real world and our world. Once you’ve lived in our world, you really don’t want to go back to the real world.”

No real hatred. No lingering ill will. And, from their perspective, no boredom from locking horns all the time. Emphasizing on-track competition, the Penske-Ganassi rivalry should be considered as one that stacks up nicely against its analogues from the stick-and-ball side of things.

And yet, to many fans within the IndyCar base, the two teams are despised. Perhaps we can blame that on their aforementioned collective dominance. Nobody likes it when somebody wins too often, after all. Ask Jeff Gordon or Sebastian Vettel.

These followers must have taken great delight in seeing how this season began with six different winners in the first seven races. None of those winners came from the Penske or Ganassi teams, and we’ll admit, that was quite intriguing to see.

However, the pendulum has swung back. In the last 11 races, eight have been won by Penske or Ganassi drivers. During this stretch, Dixon’s chalked up four wins (three of them in succession at Pocono and the Toronto doubleheader), Power’s grabbed two (Sonoma and Houston Race 2), and Castroneves and Ganassi’s third pilot, Charlie Kimball, have each scored one.

But when you push aside the supposed “winning too much” aspect for a moment, something else emerges. In an age where controversy often propels the news cycle and gets people talking and Tweeting, the overall sensibility of the Penske-Ganassi rivalry can be taken by some as being out of step with the times and not buzz-worthy.

And if IndyCar needs anything right now, it’s buzz. The title hype going into this weekend is certainly there for all of us who follow the sport but is there a huge, national anticipation for Saturday’s 500-miler in Southern California? I think we know the answer all too clearly.

Neither Penske nor Ganassi will ever apologize for how they go about their business, and they shouldn’t. For many years, they’ve been setting the standard and that’s going to remain their focus.

Still, the fact remains that IndyCar sorely lacks the lightning rod personalities that will get more people to pay attention to the series, whether they love or loathe them. They’ll get one next year when Juan Pablo Montoya returns to open-wheel as part of Team Penske, but one man won’t do the job alone.

In a perfect world, IndyCar’s tremendous racing would speak louder than anything else, and Penske and Ganassi’s relatively clean rivalry would be endlessly praised. But this is not a perfect world…Is it?

Is there a new adventure for Lowdon, Booth? @RealManor Twitter launches today

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A mere two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and John Booth and Graeme Lowdon’s sign-off to the Manor Marussia F1 Team occurred, Lowdon’s already dropped a hint of what his next move could be.

Lowdon and Booth sat front and center in a Twitter post released Tuesday, with Lowdon writing: “So maybe time for a new adventure? Why not come along too? For any news, just follow MM .”

Fittingly, the aforementioned new Twitter account – @realManor – has premiered today.

Two things to note here. One… the timing is very intriguing to say the least. Booth, then team principal, and Lowdon, then sporting director, tendered their resignations from a team that appeared to be moving forward for 2016, with confirmation of a new Mercedes power unit and technical support from Williams, in the form of gearbox and suspension components. But Booth and Lowdon resigned following apparent disagreements with the direction of the team under new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Second, the naming of the new Twitter account as Real Manor implies, intentional or not, that Manor is more closely aligned to Booth and Lowdon, rather than with the Manor Marussia F1 Team. The Twitter bio page makes that fairly clear: “Official Twitter account of Manor Motorsport. Established in 1990. Over 180 race wins and 19 National and International Championships. We love racing.” Naturally though, the Manor Marussia F1 Team continues with @ManorF1Team as its Twitter account.

With Manor F1’s management structure now going through the change, with Booth and Lowdon now out and former McLaren F1 sporting director Dave Ryan joining the team as racing director, and now this new cat out of the bag, it will be very intriguing to see what develops from a name and/or new adventure standpoint that Lowdon is referring to.

Alfonso Celis Jr. makes solid F1 test debut with Force India

Photo: @ForceIndiaF1
Leave a comment

Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jr., who was confirmed as a development driver for Sahara Force India late last month, had his first running in the VJM08 chassis during today’s season-ending test at the Yas Marina Circuit.

The Pirelli test, which featured the debut of the new ultrasoft compound, hasn’t gotten much ink thus far – perhaps by design as you’ll see from Celis’ teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s quote below.

As for Celis, who ran 65 laps for his first outing, it was a chance to step up and acclimate to an Formula 1 car for the first time.

“My first day in a Formula One car certainly lived up to expectations,” Celis said. “The car had huge grip and excellent braking efficiency, but my experience in the Formula 3.5 car had prepared me quite well for this big challenge.

“I really enjoyed the experience and I’m pleased with how the day went. For the first few runs I took things steady while I got used to the car and all the systems. Then, with each run, I started to push more and more as I kept learning about the car.

“With the program for the day set by Pirelli, I could simply focus on my driving and getting to know everyone. 2016 is going to be an important year for me as I continue working with the team so I’m pleased to have some valuable miles under my belt already.”

Meanwhile, Hulkenberg’s quote was brief:

“A trouble-free and routine day of tire testing. Lots of laps, well over a race distance for me, and hopefully lots of useful information for Pirelli,” the German said after completing 71 laps.

Force India chief race engineer Tom McCullough said Celis did well enough as he prepares for some free practice outings in 2016.

“We are very pleased to have completed a successful day of Pirelli tire testing with Alfonso and Nico covering a combined total of 136 laps,” he said. “It was Alfonso’s first day in a Formula One car and it’s always fun to be part of that acclimatization process. He worked well with the engineers and improved throughout the morning as he completed numerous long runs on high fuel. The time spent in the car today has been good preparation for his involvement in free practice sessions next year.

“Nico took over the tire program for the afternoon, gathering plenty of useful data with no issues. All in all it’s been a trouble-free day and a nice way to wrap up the 2015 season.”

A handful of tweets from the day are below:

Report: Tony Kanaan undergoes surgery for hernia

Tony Kanaan
1 Comment

The best kind of love is Instagrammed, right?

NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan and wife Lauren Kanaan (nee Bohlander) took to Instagram yesterday to post a couple videos of Kanaan’s surgery on Monday.

Kanaan posted an Instagram picture following the surgery, which is reportedly for a hernia per USA Today Sports‘ Brant James (see below).

What was a bit funnier, perhaps, was Lauren Kanaan posting a handful of Instagram videos of a woozy – but still fast and sharp – “TK” from her own account.

If you say so, @tkanaan. 😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

Serious #ultimatum. Love you, too @tkanaan 😈😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

And one minute ago he loved me. #gofigure #wecanhang @tkanaan

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

The offseason for Tony Kanaan, since the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma on August 30, has included tests at Road America and Phoenix, another triathlon and now this surgery.

Chip Ganassi Racing generally tends to put its IndyCar and NASCAR stars in cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which is already next month.

With rumors swirling that Ganassi will run at least one and possibly two Daytona Prototypes at the Rolex 24 in addition to their new Ford GT program, and with Kanaan one of four drivers with a shot to defend his overall win, you’d think he will be good to go to be named to one of those seats.

MRTI: Team Pelfrey signs Jordan Cane as its second USF2000 driver

Photo: Team Pelfrey
Leave a comment

Team Pelfrey has filled out two of its seats in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship, with confirmation Tuesday that 14-year-old Jordan Cane will be one of the team’s drivers in 2016.

Cane joins Robert Megennis, 15, as the first two confirmed drivers for 2016, with Cane in the team’s No. 81 entry. Both tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of The Americas in late November.

Cane’s contract is for two years, with an option to extend beyond that. He graduates from F1600, where he won seven races and finished fourth in the championship despite missing several races.

“I am so pleased to continue my North American open-wheel racing career with Team Pelfrey,” Cane said.

“My time in America has been such a highlight to my resume especially breaking the all-time win record in my first season and coming away fourth in the F1600 Championship whilst missing six races –not bad for the youngest in the world this year in formula cars. I didn’t expect to have such a fantastic year and I have to thank everyone at Team Pelfrey who has made it possible.”

“We are delighted to have Jordan join us for another two years,” said Nigel Tuckey, team principal of Team Pelfrey. “His growth on and off the track has been extraordinary and his competitive nature is something every driver in the paddock wishes to inhabit. We’ve grown a custom to seeing him on the top step of the podium, and we hope to see more of that come 2016.”

Pelfrey’s four-car lineup in 2015 featured a quartet of rookies, Ayla Agren, Luke Gabin, Garth Rickards and Nikita Lastochkin. All would like to continue for a second season in USF2000, budgets pending, and Lastochkin dominated the Griffis Test while driving with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.