IndyCar: Ganassi seeks first win, or Pocono encore this weekend

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Considering its success in the Verizon IndyCar Series for most of the last two decades, to see Chip Ganassi Racing winless through 10 races for the second straight season is as surprising as it is frustrating for the team that has achieved so much.

Last year though, the tides turned with a crushing, seemingly out of nowhere podium sweep at the Pocono 400. Scott Dixon went from having no wins to having three in eight days, as he led the Pocono podium and then won both races in Toronto.

This year, through the change in driver and engineering lineup and change in engine from Honda to Chevrolet, Ganassi hasn’t fully extracted the maximum performance on a consistent basis. There have been plenty of flashes but not enough luck or results to show for it.

After 10 races this season, Dixon ranks ninth and Tony Kanaan 11th in the two Target-backed cars, while Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Levemir® FlexTouch® Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet sit 13th and 15th in the championships standings. All bar Briscoe have a single podium finish, but none has finished better than third.

Kanaan has seven top-10 finishes this year, with Kimball on six, Briscoe on five and Dixon on four. All of Dixon’s top-10s were top-fives, though.

Briscoe will no doubt have an easier weekend this year than last in terms of logistics. Last year, he didn’t qualify as he was racing the American Le Mans Series event at Lime Rock Park on the Saturday, then flew back to Pocono to compete in the National Guard Panther Racing entry on Sunday.

For Kimball, who still looked fresh as a daisy after his fourth-place finish in Houston Race 2 last Sunday, he’s already bagged three top-five finishes this year. A fourth would set a new career high. He’s a good sleeper pick this weekend considering he finished second to Dixon last year and had arguably his best ever oval race last fall at Fontana, where he led late before an engine failure.

As for the Target pair, Dixon and Kanaan have several 500-mile race wins already under their belt, and shouldn’t be ruled out this weekend. Last year Dixon parlayed better fuel mileage – then with a Honda – to his advantage while Kanaan had pace but burned fuel faster when leading in his Chevrolet.

We’ll see if the team can pull an encore of its Pocono performance this weekend (Sunday, noon ET, NBCSN). If any of the drivers win, they’ll be the eighth different driver from the sixth different team this year. If Briscoe podiums, he’ll be the 17th different driver to do so in 2014.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.