A quick look at the time sheets from the first test session of this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View could make one think that Chip Ganassi Racing started off on the back foot. None of the four Chip Ganassi drivers finished the session in top ten, with Scott Dixon the best of the bunch in 12th in his No. 9 Honda.
However, the four-time champion rebounded in the evening session, spending most of the night in top five and ending it in fourth. Teammates Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan flexed some of their muscle as well, locking in spots in sixth and eighth.
Dixon never appeared concerned after the lackluster opening session, even offering a reason he and his teammates were not among the fastest early on.
“We didn’t do new tires,” he said of the first session times. “It looked like a bunch of people did new tires at the end and did a couple of different aero adjustments to try and get an idea on some of the data that we’ve been looking at through the off-season.”
Phoenix International Raceway provides an excellent platform for the organization as it transitions back to Honda power and begins working with Honda’s aero kit. Dixon dominated last year’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, leading the final 155 laps on his way to victory, and his performance that night serves as a benchmark that will help the organization gauge its competitiveness.
As far as Dixon is concerned, in spite of the lap times, the opening session was a positive experience. “The engine feels really good, and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent,” he detailed. “It’s always hard to tell in preseason testing, especially with manufacturers, how tuned up they are, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out once we come back here for the race. But for us and our testing program today, the session went fairly well.”
Dixon was also keen to emphasize the team’s history with Honda. As one of its flagship operations upon entering the sport in the 1990s, Chip Ganassi Racing won nine championships with Honda, including the first for both manufacturer and team in 1996.
“As a team we’ve achieved a lot with HPD and Honda, so it’s nice to be back working with a lot of those people, and as I said, they run the program vastly different (from Chevrolet),” he said. “So I think the program in itself actually fits our team a little bit better, but you know, we’ll have to see.”
While changing manufacturers may not seem daunting, especially if it means returning to one you’re already familiar with, there are many elements that complicate matters. For starters, Honda’s engine is vastly different from what it was in 2013, the last year Chip Ganassi’s team competed under the Honda umbrella. They ran with a single-turbo 2.2-liter V6 that year. Honda switched to a twin-turbo platform in 2014, but Ganassi’s team had already moved to Chevrolet by then. And, of course, there is Honda’s aero kit and its much-documented struggles against Chevrolet’s.
Dixon understands it may be an uphill battle, but he is happy to face a new challenge. “There’s a lot to learn, a lot to take in. It’s exciting, it’s a new challenge, and definitely happy to be behind the No. 9, and we’ll see what we can get this season.”
And, not to be ignored, Dixon’s appearance mirrored that of The Stig, Top Gear’s tame racing driver. The Kiwi’s entry was adorned in a white livery with a driver’s suit to match and did not hide the fact the team has not yet announced a sponsor in the wake of Target’s departure.
“You don’t like it?” Dixon quipped when asked about his all-white attire. He politely declined to elaborate on the details.
“That’s above my pay grade, man,” he joked when asked about the sponsor search.
Testing continues for the man in white, and the rest of the 21-car field, tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. local time.