Ganassi Racing aims for 100th IndyCar win Saturday at Iowa Speedway

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How much weight is there on the shoulders of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam?

There could be a lot.

This hypothetical weight isn’t the kind that comes with winning yet another Indianapolis 500 (four) or series championship (10 in CART/IndyCar).

It’s the kind that comes with your next win possibly being Chip Ganassi’s 100th as an IndyCar owner.

The wait for No. 100 began as soon as Scott Dixon won last June’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway for his second win of the year.

It continues this weekend in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway, a track Ganassi has won at twice (2008, 09′) before Andretti won the next five races.

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Michael Andretti celebrating his 1994 win at Surfer’s Paradise. (Source: Chip Ganassi Racing)

The road to No. 100 for Ganassi began when the former CART driver became a team owner on April 1, 1990. Four years later, CGR scored its first win with Michael Andretti in the season opening Australian FAI Indy Car Grand Prix at Surfer’s Paradise.

Thirty drivers have competed for Ganassi, who has 99 wins and 10 championships with five of those drivers.

The current stable of Ganassi drivers have combined to win 38 races for the owner: Dixon has 36, Kanaan and Kimball each have one and Karam has none in his part-time rookie season.

These drivers have a mixed bag at Iowa. Dixon, who earned his first win for Ganassi in 2003 at Homestead, and has two poles to his name at the .894-mile track (2007, ’08).

“Iowa is such a little bullring, it’s so fast,” Dixon said in a release. “The G-loadings that you’re getting and how quick they get the cars to perform around the track is spectacular.”

But in Dixon’s eight starts there, he has yet to finish on the podium. His best finish is fourth, three times.

“I’ve got a little bit of work to do,” Dixon said.

Kanaan, who earned his only Ganassi win thus far in the 2014 finale at Fontana, may represent CGR’s best chance to win at Iowa. The Brazilian started Andretti’s Iowa dominance in 2010, when he led 62 laps on the way to the win.

Kanaan has finished on the podium in all four races since, leading a total of 334 laps. That included leading 247 last year, before he stayed out on a final caution and then lost out to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who pitted for fresh tires and won the race.

“I can’t wait to get back to Iowa this weekend – there’s just something about these short ovals that I love,” said Kanaan, who has three podium finishes in 2015, with two on ovals. “It’s always such an exciting race, and with the way we’ve been running this season, I don’t see this weekend’s race being any different.”

Kimball’s only win came in 2013 at Mid-Ohio. His best result in four starts at Iowa is 10th last year.

“Iowa Speedway is definitely a physically and mentally demanding track, but I think that’s one reason we enjoy the challenge of it,” Kimball said. “I know the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet will be fast in clean air, but we’ll just need to work on running in traffic to make sure we can stay up front.”

Karam has ran in 10 races in two years for Ganassi. If Karam were to win, he’d be upstaging three veterans and two former champions to earn his first and Ganassi’s 100th win.

Saturday is Karam’s first IndyCar start at Iowa, but in his championship-winning single year in Indy Lights, the Nazareth, Pa., native scored one of his three wins at the track.

Despite crashing out of the Milwuakee race Sunday, Karam has shown improvements as the season’s progressed. He qualified a career-best third at Milwaukee, a race after leading the first five laps of his career at Fontana and earning his best finish in fifth.

“I feel like we have some momentum on our side with the No. 8 car program,” Karam said. “I love Iowa and was a big fan of driving this track in the ladder series. We need a good result and to continue to move forward, and I hope we can get it this weekend and capitalize on all the hard work that’s gone into this program.”

Risi Competizione confirms multiple race absence from IMSA

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The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE will miss several upcoming IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races, starting at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

The team has plans to return to the GT Le Mans class later this year, but hasn’t said when.

Risi’s absence was first indicated when IMSA released the Watkins Glen entry list earlier this week. It takes the sole Ferrari in class out of it for a handful of races; the pair of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella had a best finish of third so far this season.

“Following an extremely challenging first half of 2017, most recently at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I have decided to withdraw the Risi Competizione race team from part of the 2017 IMSA season in order to consolidate resources and to reflect on future racing programs,” Team Principal Giuseppe Risi said in a release.

Risi’s crash at Le Mans was with a separate 488 GTE chassis, not its full-season one.

But the IMSA full-season one sustained back-to-back hits at Long Beach and Circuit of The Americas. Then, the brand new car took a beating after Matthieu Vaxiviere came over on top of Pierre Kaffer’s No. 82 car going into a chicane on the Mulsanne Straight.

Kaffer was sore but OK and is in Road America this weekend for Pirelli World Challenge GT action, where he competes in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Rossi tops opening practice at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Alexander Rossi led the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport.

The young American has always liked this track, as this was one of the tracks he had past experience on prior to his debut season in IndyCar.

At the 4.014-mile circuit, Rossi posted a best time of 1:43.3285, clear of three Team Penske Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Scott Dixon completed the top five.

“It’s early; it’s a good way to start,” Rossi told IndyCar Radio after the session. “We’ve known we had a fast car. We just haven’t executed. We want our first win under our belt.”

Only the top 10 drivers down to Helio Castroneves in 10th were within one second, at 0.9964 of a second.

Eighth-placed Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out an early end to the session with an off-course excursion, beached at Turn 14. He was OK but the session ended a minute or two early.

Robert Wickens, in his first official Verizon IndyCar Series session filling in for Mikhail Aleshin at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was 20th at 1:45.6823. That was within a tenth of the returning Esteban Gutierrez at 1:45.6257, for Dale Coyne Racing.

Wickens’ teammate James Hinchcliffe was sixth in this session. Meanwhile Gutierrez’s teammate Ed Jones debuted a new Walter Payton tribute helmet; Payton was Dale Coyne’s former business partner and had his first IndyCar race as co-owner here. The late Chicago Bears running back was, of course, one of the best running backs in NFL history. Jones’ decision to wear a Bears helmet in Elkhart Lake, not far from Green Bay, is a brave one!

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt updated Aleshin’s status when speaking to IndyCar Radio during the session.

“Supposedly, he’s on a flight. He got his visa from Paris. He’s supposed to land in Chicago tonight. We’ll see,” he said.

“Yeah up until yesterday morning we thought Mikhail would come in yesterday, and cruise normal fashion. Then his passport didn’t show up. We didn’t know if a day, two or three days. Called half a dozen guys. It was a bit of a scramble. We already had Robert’s seat, so that was convenient. Who could get here the quickest and get in the car. He hasn’t driven here in 10 years. But he’s getting up to speed quickly.”

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Liberty planning evolution, not revolution, with future F1 calendars

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that the sport’s owner, Liberty Media, is focusing on evolution instead of revolution when it comes to forming race schedules in the coming years.

Liberty completed its takeover of F1 back in January, with Carey replacing Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of the sport.

Widespread changes have been expected as Liberty looks to increase F1’s footprint and reach in key markets such as the United States, with a number of new races expected as a result.

A first provisional calendar for the 2018 season was published on Monday, featuring the 21 races expected, up one from 2017 after the addition of France and Germany, and the loss of Malaysia.

When asked by NBC Sports if 2019 would be the first F1 calendar that Liberty could put its stamp on, Carey responded by saying he believed it was already clear on the 2018 schedule.

“I think that stamp exists today. I think we’re very proud of the calendar,” Carey said.

“We view this as our calendar. I might expect over time the calendar will evolve a little bit, but most of the races we have are multi-year.

“You’re not going have in any one year, you’re not going to have a dramatic change because most of the agreements are multi-year agreements.

“I think very much this is a calendar we feel good about, and I would say it’s our calendar. It’s not anybody else’s.”

Carey said that a total revamp of the calendar was not realistic given the contracts for races that are already in place, a well as important factors such as the August summer break that gives teams a chance to shut down for a couple of weeks during a busy season.

“There are realities to deals we have in place. Some races are in historical places that are important, and there’s a reason they’re historically there,” Carey said.

“They’re places and races we’re very proud of that want to be in a particular time of the year, and obviously that’s important for us if they’re there. So I think in saying we’re burdened with some construct we inherited, I don’t look at it that way.

“There’s a logic to this calendar. European races are largely clustered in this period from mid May to early September. You’ve got your traditional August break. I think for us, our focus, I said in Montreal, we feeling good about the calendar.

“I think we believe we can continue to improve it, but I think there will be an evolution, not a re-doing. I think our focus is really making the races everything they can be.

“I think this calendar issue probably gets more weight and focus and people try to make more out of it than it is. I think our biggest priority is making these events, we have 21 events we have this year, everything they can and should and we hope they be.”

Alonso, Vandoorne get grid drops in Baku after power unit changes

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are set to start this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the last row of the grid after the FIA confirmed that both will receive a 15-place drop from their qualifying position.

Alonso and Vandoorne are yet to score a single point through the opening seven races of the season amid ongoing difficulties for engine partner Honda, whose power unit has lacked both performance and reliability so far this season.

Alonso’s struggles continued in practice in Baku on Friday as he was forced to park up at the side of the track during FP2 with an apparent engine issue, adding to McLaren’s ongoing plight.

The Spaniard said in McLaren’s race preview that he expected to take a grid penalty for changing a number of parts on his power unit, with the drop being officially confirmed by the FIA on Friday.

Both Alonso and Vandoorne will take a 15-place grid drop from their final qualifying position on Friday, meaning they are likely to start from the final row of the grid.

The only other driver with a grid penalty in Baku is Carlos Sainz Jr., who will drop three places as punishment for causing a collision at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago.