Charlie Kimball

Kanaan and Kimball's IndyCar futures are uncertain. Photo: IndyCar

Ganassi’s driver lineup in rapid state of flux for 2018

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MADISON, Ill. – The four-car lineup of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton for 2017 marked Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ first lineup retained for consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series seasons since 2011 and 2012, when Dixon, Kimball, Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal were all on board for those two seasons.

Since that point, the team has either gone down to three cars (one year only in 2013) or had at least one driver change to its roster.

Driver change is expected to return to Ganassi for the 2018 season, because it remains to be seen where three of its four drivers will land next year. This year, the major upheaval centered on the team’s return to Honda from Chevrolet.

Dixon is the team’s lone lock, and will lead Ganassi’s charge in whatever format the team takes on next year, if it continues as a four-car team or as has been rumored from multiple sources, downsizes to either two or three cars.

NBCSN contributor Robin Miller stated during Saturday night’s telecast from Gateway Motorsports Park that Kanaan and Chilton won’t return for sure.

It’s in looking at those last two drivers just mentioned that a pair of somewhat surprising and controversial in-race decisions for them to retire in-race have occurred in recent weeks.

Kanaan lost the back end of his No. 10 NTT Data Honda on a pace lap in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline. That saw him come into the pits before the race even began for repairs to his rear wheel guard assembly.

Running several laps down, Kanaan later retired with 164 laps complete. Kanaan told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis to “talk to Chip” about the reasoning for the retirement, with Ganassi then declining comment himself when asked by Beekhuis. Kanaan left the track, and posted a tweet thanking the fans for coming to Gateway Motorsports Park and apologizing for himself that he didn’t deliver a better performance.

Chilton, who only had two DNFs the entirety of 2016 and just one thus far in 2017 – when he got caught up in the Turn 1, Lap 1 multi-car pileup at Phoenix – has now had two in consecutive weeks.

A wastegate issue cost him a potential top-five finish at Pocono as he was up to fifth in the opening stint. There, Chilton was looking to emulate the run he turned in at the 101st Indianapolis 500, where he led a race-high 50 laps and finished a career-best fourth.

But running several laps down there, Chilton’s car was parked past the halfway point. It’s understood several key members of the No. 8 team were displeased with that decision.

Chilton tweeted during the race “I am not a quitter,” and in the race aftermath, a radio transmission between Chilton and his team was broadcast where he ended it saying, “Good riddance. Can’t wait for next year.”

The Chiltons are now happily married, but questions exist over where they’ll go next in IndyCar. Photo: IndyCar

For Chilton, who just got married to his longtime girlfriend Chloe a little over a week ago, Saturday night’s early end came after he lost the rear end of his No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in Turn 4.

“It’s not been ideal,” Chilton told NBC Sports of his last two weeks. “But Watkins (Glen) though is my favorite track. Hopefully we score some points there. Sonoma’s a doubleheader really because of double points. Essentially there’s three races to go, and lots can change.”

Kimball, Ganassi’s second longest-tenured IndyCar driver having been with the team for 115 races since 2011, also is a free agent at year’s end with he and longtime partner Novo Nordisk working to secure a new contract to continue in IndyCar in 2018. Finishing seventh Saturday, his second-best result of the year, was key as he faces question marks about where he might go.

“I think the future holds a little uncertainty but at same time it’s irrelevant; I have a great partner, they love being at the race track and I know there’s a big group coming to both Watkins Glen and Sonoma,” Kimball told NBC Sports.

“I’m just focused on getting good results to close the year. That only makes my offseason better, when I go into the offseason with good results under my belt.

“I don’t talk about contracts or worry about it. My job is to be quick in practice, get pole and win races. The rest is business and that takes care of itself.”

Kanaan still has the desire to be in IndyCar and told RTV-6 reporter Dave Furst, also a member of the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network, at Pocono last week he is an official free agent.

Chilton and Kimball had been rumored earlier this season to jump ship and go with Carlin into IndyCar, in what would be a potential step up for the Trevor Carlin-led organization from the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season. Carlin has not commented publicly on the rumor, and has said in the past he’d only make the step up once all the necessary puzzle pieces were in place.

Even if the Carlin option doesn’t materialize, both Chilton and Kimball would figure to have some degree of budget from their respective partners – Arthur J. Gallagher and Novo Nordisk – which they could take to other teams on the grid. Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are among the potential suitors with expected vacancies.

Kanaan’s pre-race spin in Gateway. Photo: IndyCar

As for Kanaan, his year started with so much promise with a yearlong “TK20” celebration and a number of career lifetime achievement boxes ticked – Ganassi offered Kanaan a chance to race a Ford GT in a scheduled role at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and then as an injury replacement for Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

But since Le Mans, Kanaan’s IndyCar season has descended into a series of frustrating incidents and results.

Between a crash at Road America, giving up a spot to Dixon at Iowa, a lock-up going into the Turn 1 wall in Toronto (which jumbled the order there as it brought out a caution during the first pit stop sequence), a nondescript Mid-Ohio showing and now Saturday night’s race, it’s been rare to see Kanaan in the typical race-winning and podium-contending form he’s shown the last three years with Ganassi. Pocono was the exception rather than the norm.

Thanks to some personal sponsorships, he has a degree of budget to bring to another IndyCar team as well, but more than that he has the veteran savvy and significant fan base he’d provide as well.

There have been some 20-something-year-old names in the IndyCar paddock floated as potential 2018 Ganassi drivers, some with more experience in the series than others.

In any case, Ganassi seems to need at least one funded driver to offset the potential loss of anywhere from one to three of his existing quartet next year.

Although nothing is settled yet, it seems apparent after the last two weeks that Ganassi’s IndyCar team is set for a significant state of upheaval alongside Dixon, the team’s standard bearing driver rock since mid-2002.

Daly oval-best P5 after great drive; tight battle with Kimball

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MADISON, Ill. – Conor Daly put on perhaps the best drive he’s had in his Verizon IndyCar Series career to finish fifth in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

Starting 11th, Daly was running strong early before he slid through his pit stall during a sequence of pit stops, which saw his No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet plummet down the running order.

From there, the A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver needed to pull off some aggressive moves to work his way back forward, and he did exactly that, especially on the restarts, when he frequently used the outside line to make passes.

“I loved the high lane. I learned from Tomas Scheckter back in the day: Always go high on the restarts. That’s what I went for and it worked on all the restarts,” Daly quipped regarding his restarts.

Daly added that he accepted full responsibility for slipping through his pit stall, highlighting that the slick pit lane simply caught him out.

“I did it to myself. We had a good start, a good first few stints and then I just slid through the box. Really slick pit lane and it was just something that I didn’t catch. But then after that I was determined to get to the front, because I knew the car was good.”

Further, he also had to survive a fierce battle with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball when battling over sixth place, which actually saw the two make contact as they jockeyed for track position.

Daly, as he detailed, was none too happy about how Kimball was defending – or in his view, blocking.

“(Charlie) hit me like twice. It was unbelievable. And he hit (my teammate Carlos Munoz) too – he knocked Carlos nearly into the wall, and he drove into my wing as I was coming underneath him. It was just a shame to see that. Normally I race together quite well with him, but yeah that was just kind of silly,” Daly expressed.

Kimball, for his part, labeled it hard racing, explaining that the contact between the two resulted from them simply fighting over the same real estate.

“I think he was trying to beat me to the bottom. But, just with the draft and the way the Chevy is, he ran into the back of me,” Kimball told NBC Sports of the incident.

Kimball added the nature of the track and the importance of track position, along with Honda’s aero disadvantage on the straightaways, forced drivers to defend aggressively.

“The way we were down the straights and the way the racing was here, you had to do everything you could to keep track position.”

Kimball finished seventh, which was his best oval result of the year, and second best overall (sixth at Road America).

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report from Gateway Motorsports Park

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Charlie Kimball to visit Gateway on Thursday

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball will visit Gateway Motorsports Park on Thursday for a media appearance and will take a ceremonial lap of the repaved 1.25-mile oval.

Following a test in early May that saw several cars suffer cut tires, Gateway officials opted to completely repave the facility ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on August 26. The project began after the June 17 Drivin’ for Linemen 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and was completed earlier this week.

“I’m really excited to race at Gateway Motorsports Park,” said Kimball. “The opportunity to test there didn’t really pan out earlier in the season with the old paving, so I think the whole series is looking forward to getting out there and seeing what kind of improvements have been made to the track. It’s great to see the investment that Gateway has put into the track with the repaving – new asphalt always produces amazing racing with the Verizon IndyCar Series. To be able to compete under the lights in August on Saturday night on a short track like Gateway is going to be fantastic. I think the way Turn 1 and Turn 3 are so very different is going to lead to an incredible event and the new asphalt will only add to that.”

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Kimball’s Novo Nordisk Honda joins blue, white liveries in Toronto

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The bevy of blue and white liveries in the Verizon IndyCar Series grows by one – again – with Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 Novo Nordisk Canada Honda at Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

With a Diabetes Canada primary message, the ordinarily black and green Tresiba Honda goes to a blue and white scheme this weekend.

The car ran without Tresiba signage in Toronto last year as well, with generic Race With Insulin signage on the car. But a great opportunity presents itself for Novo Nordisk Canada this weekend with this revised livery.

“As a global leader in diabetes care, Novo Nordisk has a responsibility to invest in initiatives that support the diabetes community,” said Brian Hilberdink, President at Novo Nordisk Canada, Inc. “Our partnership with Diabetes Canada and Charlie Kimball reinforces this commitment and we’re proud to support Charlie live his dream of driving professionally while managing his diabetes.

“Diabetes literally doesn’t slow him down and we hope his story will inspire others. The new car livery in Toronto leverages our strong corporate brand and reputation in the diabetes community in Canada, it also allows for a unique opportunity to partner with Diabetes Canada.”

Rick Blickstead, President and CEO, Diabetes Canada, added: “Diabetes is a serious disease that can have devastating health impacts. We’re proud to partner with Novo Nordisk to tell Charlie’s story, which shows that with the technology, medication and the right team – you can live well with diabetes.”

Kimball’s blue and white car means all four Ganassi cars have blue and white liveries this weekend. Tony Kanaan’s is the only primarily blue car, the No. 10 NTT Data Honda, while Scott Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda and Max Chilton’s No. 8 Gallagher Honda have different shades of blue with their white.

Others running some shade of blue on their cars this weekend include the AJ Foyt Racing pair of Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz, Dale Coyne Racing pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand back in Preferred Freezer colors, and Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato at Andretti Autosport, to make 12 of the 21 cars with some shade of blue in them.

The full Toronto spotter guide is linked here.

Kimball, Chilton quiet but solid at Road America

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While Scott Dixon scored victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of the team’s other drivers enjoyed quietly solid days at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Charlie Kimball, in need of a strong finish after being stricken with bad luck so far in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, scored his best finish of the year with a fine run to sixth place. While he was never a part of the battle for victory, he was “best of the rest” for most of the day and enjoyed a solid, mistake-free run.

“Overall a really solid day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Kimball said afterward. Though he admitted tire management in the race’s third stint hampered his efforts, he was more than pleased with the end result.

“That third stint, I don’t think I managed the Firestone alternates as well as some of the guys around me,” Kimball revealed. “You saw that with (Will Power) with a better in and out lap. That was disappointing, because I think we could have maybe had a shot at a top five. Overall though, to fight off some competitors for that last stint after the final yellow felt good and it felt good to bring it home in sixth for the guys. Kind of a semi-trouble free weekend and pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Max Chilton, too, scored a solid ten finish, the Briton finishing ninth. However, unlike Kimball, Chilton lamented not being able to finish higher on a circuit where he feels very comfortable.

Max Chilton during qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not how we wanted it, especially after how quick we were (in the morning warmup),” said Chilton, who started seventh and was second fastest in the morning warmup. Like Kimball, he struggled with tire management, and an untimely caution when he was on the primary black tires put paid to his chances of a better finish.

“Something just wasn’t working for us. On a set of reds, we were struggling massively and then we went to the blacks, which would’ve been alright, but then the safety car came out and everyone else had longer life on the reds and I was struggling again.”

With the Kohler Grand Prix in the books, Chilton currently sits 11th in the championship, three points behind tenth-place Ed Jones, while Kimball remains 18th, 72 points outside the top ten.