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.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.