IndyCar: Ganassi team has better qualifying in search of second straight win

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. – Poised to play spoilers and perhaps, in Scott Dixon’s case, sneak into championship contention, the Chip Ganassi Racing team enjoyed a banner qualifying day while prior practice pacesetters Andretti Autosport struggled at The Milwaukee Mile.

Team Penske has two of the top three spots on the grid for Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but Ganassi has three of the top six. Interestingly, only Dixon in 11th starts outside that top half-dozen.

Tony Kanaan nearly captured the pole but for a lift in Turns 1 and 2, that was enough to send his Huggies-backed No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to second on the grid.

“I tried to go flat through 1-2 and got greedy; it was about Tony Kanaan being too greedy,” Kanaan said post-qualifying, while dropping a rare mention of himself in the third person.

“I had to try it. I’d be bragging if I did. Not a bad qualifying. We should be top five.”

Kanaan is, and on the strength of leading 325 laps in the last two oval races at Iowa (247) and Pocono (78), is primed to capture his first win of the year on Sunday.

“We’re no different than Iowa, so that tells you where we’re at. But we’ll still need a clean day,” Kanaan said.

“We did some long runs this afternoon. Pretty pleased. We have a good car, but it means nothing actually. We didn’t lead the right laps at Iowa.”

The NTT Data and Novo Nordisk-backed entries of Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball qualified fourth and sixth, respectively. Briscoe is a prior Milwaukee race winner and polesitter, but Kimball had never qualified better than 18th in three prior Milwaukee starts.

“On Lap 1 in first practice I was pretty fast, then we made some changes and lost it. So then we were conservative and went back to that,” Briscoe said. “It was the safe thing to do.

“I squeezed 90 percent out of it. To go from a 22.9 (second lap) last session to 21.6 is a big jump.”

Added Kimball, who estimated he’d got 90-95 percent out of the car, “We got pretty close. There’s still some things I learned. I had a good convo with Dario, and he was pretty solid around here. He taught me how to approach this place mentally. I had to carry that advise and experience. I got 90-95 percent of it today. More for me to learn. We’ll do better tomorrow.”

Oddly it’s Dixon, in 11th, who went out last and by all rights could have snatched the pole from Will Power, but wasn’t able to hit the balance. But considering he started dead last, 22nd, and won last race at Mid-Ohio, starting from half that distance should make things a bit simpler.

For the team, which hadn’t won all season until Dixon last race, it now has an excellent shot at two-in-a-row.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.