Off-Target: Chip Ganassi’s four-car stable has tough Indy 500

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With cars decked out in silver to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Target’s alliance with Chip Ganassi Racing, defending Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon went racing for another bit of silver on Sunday: The Borg-Warner Trophy, annually presented to the winner of the ‘500.’

But the 98th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing proved rough for the vaunted TCGR duo.

Kanaan, whose ‘500’ victory one year ago was one of the most popular in race history, suffered a 43-second pit stop on Lap 66 and then returned to the pits a short time later for a longer period.

He would eventually rejoin the race 18 laps down and his ‘500’ reign ended with a 26th-place finish.

“Our day was pretty much over before it started with the issues we had on pit lane,” Kanaan said. “When you go that many laps down, you simply cannot recover.

“I always say this place chooses the winner and unfortunately, today, she didn’t choose us.”

It was left to Dixon, the 2008 Indy winner, to carry the Bullseye banner. As usual, the New Zealander was steady for much of the afternoon and embedded himself firmly in the Top 5.

But on Lap 168 of 200, Dixon lost control of his No. 9 Target Chevy and slammed into the outside wall in Turn 4. After the yellow came out for the Dixon crash, ‘500’ rookie Martin Plowman then got into the back of Josef Newgarden, ending the latter’s afternoon.

“All of a sudden, it just started to slide [mid-apex],” 29th-place finisher Dixon said of his wreck. “I tried to catch it and there was no catching it.”

Another Ganassi pilot, Charlie Kimball, also found the wall on Sunday. After the race ran its first 148 laps under green-flag conditions, Kimball spun in Turn 2 and made contact; he was credited with 31st place.

In the end, it was Ryan Briscoe with the Ganassi camp’s best finish – 18th. And that could have been a Top-10 result if not for a run-in with Will Power shortly after the race went green with six laps to go.

“I got a run on Power and he just completely drove me to the grass and chopped me and broke my front wing,” said Briscoe, who had charged toward the front late after going a lap down early.

“It was dangerous driving, and I just can’t believe he didn’t get a penalty or anything. It was just absolutely stupid driving on his part and ruined our race after we did such a good job.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.