Chip Ganassi Racing

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Kanaan finding IndyCar ‘more competitive than ever’

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan believes that the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming “more competitive than ever” as the championship’s plans for the future begin to become clear.

INDYCAR bosses have outlined a five-year plan for the series moving forward, with a universal aero kit in 2018 and a push for a third manufacturer to join Chevrolet and Honda in the future on the agenda.

The 2017 season has kicked off in an unpredictable fashion as seven drivers have shared the opening nine race wins, with Will Power and Graham Rahal being the only repeat winners.

Kanaan feels that the series is only becoming more and more competitive, with the introduction of the universal aero kit poised to aid that from next year.

“I think it is going to be more competitive than ever as we still have different aero kits that can make a difference. Next year is going to be even tougher,” Kanaan said.

“At the last race [in Texas] we had 15 cars and two-tenths of a second. I think it is the right direction, and they are also trying to keep the costs down which is the biggest challenge in racing all over the world, to get the teams to afford to be there.

“The way they are doing the kits, trying to get more teams and new teams into the series, and it is working. We had three new teams at Indy 500 and they are looking forward to coming back. We should try to add more teams and not lose cars.”

Kanaan added that a third manufacturer would be “a big help” for IndyCar, saying: “They are in talks with two others but I don’t know who they are but more people, cars, manufacturers, teams will always help.”

Having made his debut in American single-seaters back in 1998, Kanaan has raced through many different eras, but does not believe the series has ever been more competitive.

“It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t get any younger. It goes the opposite way!” Kanaan chuckled.

“It is amazing as you cannot afford to have one little problem or one little hiccup in a race. Before if you did that you would finish third or fourth but now you will finish 15th.

“You have 22 cars and in some races 21 of them on the lead lap and five seconds from one another. It raised the game for the mechanics too with the importance of pit stops.”

Bell leads IndyCar contingent in Le Mans qualifying

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Although he hasn’t been in a Verizon IndyCar Series race this year, NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was best of those actively involved in the 2017 IndyCar season in qualifying for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Bell qualified third in the GTE-Am class in the No. 62 WeatherTech-backed Ferrari 488 GTE for Scuderia Corsa, which he shares with Bill Sweedler and Cooper MacNeil. Bell and Sweedler are seeking to defend their class victory here last year, which they accomplished co-driving with Jeff Segal in the previous generation Ferrari F458 Italia.

As there are eight 488s in the 16-car GTE-Am class, this Scuderia Corsa Ferrari has been the best of them both at the Le Mans Test Day and in qualifying. Bell’s best time of 3:53.312 was about a half second off class polesitter Fernando Rees, in the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, at 3:52.886. Bell has completed 32 laps this week.

“Qualifying went well,” Bell said. “We made our first change to the car to make it go quicker and that is exactly what it did tonight. It improved the balance and that made a small improvement, but around this long track that makes a big difference. Bill and Cooper did some strong laps and are comfortable in the car, which is what is important. To be starting third and the fastest Ferrari says a lot about our effort here this week.”

Beyond Bell, there’s three active drivers competing in IndyCar this season who are racing at Le Mans this week, two in the GTE-Pro class and one in LMP2.

Scott Dixon is best of that group as he’ll start fifth in GTE-Pro in the No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT which he shares with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. This trio finished third here last year, with Dixon setting the fastest race lap in class on his Le Mans debut.

Briscoe, an IndyCar veteran from 2005 through 2015, set the car’s best qualifying time of 3:51.232. The class pole time is Darren Turner in the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 at 3:50.837.

“We definitely had a go at qualifying tonight,” Briscoe said. “It was the first time we ran with new tires and low fuel and we’ve always found this car comes alive when we drop the fuel out of it, so it felt great. The balance was nice. We got one of those good laps at Le Mans where you get a tow and don’t get held up with any traffic and piece it together. I was really pleased, but obviously there’s a lot of competition. It was quick at the time but we’re fifth now so I think it’s going to be a tough race and hopefully we’ll have the pace to stay at the front during the race.”

Dixon’s best time this week in 29 total laps is a 3:52.807, set in the second of three qualifying sessions. Westbrook’s is a 3:52.496. Dixon also got to catch up with Ford World Rallycross driver Ken Block at Le Mans.

The No. 68 Ford, the defending class winner here, will launch its defense from 12th on the 13-car grid. IndyCar 20th year man but Le Mans rookie Tony Kanaan shares that car with Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, Kanaan deputizing for the injured Sebastien Bourdais.

Kanaan’s best lap this week is a 3:53.512. The Brazilian completed 15 laps in the first four-hour free practice session and nine more laps since, so he has a total of 24 before warmup on Saturday morning.

Mikhail Aleshin also saddles up for his third consecutive Le Mans, this time in SMP Racing’s new Dallara P217 Gibson in LMP2 with Sergey Sirotkin and Victor Shaitar.

Aleshin’s best time of 3:27.782 has put the No. 27 car 10th on the LMP2 class grid, and 16th overall, first non-Oreca 07 (or the rebadged Alpine A470 variant) on the grid. In the all-Russian lineup, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar driver has driven only 24 laps this week.

MAZDA ROAD TO INDY ROOKIE QUARTET DEBUTS

There’s also four recent Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires graduates making their debuts at Le Mans, in Andre Negrao, Felix Rosenqvist, Will Owen and Jose Gutierrez, who’ve competed in either Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires or Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in recent years.

Those cars will line up 14th, 20th, 21st and 22nd overall, eighth, 14th, 15th and 16th in the LMP2 class. Negrao is in the No. 35 Signatech Alpine A470 Gibson with Nelson Panciatici and Pierre Ragues, Gutierrez is in the DragonSpeed-run No. 22 Oreca 07 he shares with Ryo Hirakawa and Memo Rojas, Owen in the best of seven Ligier JS P217 chassis, the No. 32 United Autosports entry he shares with Filipe Albuquerque and Hugo de Sadeleer, and Rosenqvist in the DragonSpeed-10 Star No. 21 Oreca 07 with Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley, an all-rookie lineup.

Negrao’s best time this week is 3:29.248 in 31 laps, Rosenqvist’s is 3:29.777 in just 19 laps, Gutierrez’s is 3:32.406 in 37 laps, and Owen’s is 3:37.469 in 32 laps.

It is worth noting the Oreca has a distinct pace edge in LMP2 over the other three chassis. Aleshin’s Dallara lap of 3:27.782 is the best non-Oreca lap this week, but still 2.43 seconds off Alex Lynn’s pole time of 3:25.352 in the No. 26 G-Drive Racing (TDS) Oreca 07.

Of course there are plenty of others with past IndyCar or Mazda Road to Indy experience in the field but these mentioned above are the most recent and/or are still active within these championships.

This year’s Le Mans race starts Saturday at 3 p.m. local time, 9 a.m. ET, with coverage on the FOX networks and flag-to-flag radio coverage via Radio Le Mans.

Bourdais ‘feeling better everyday;’ close to walking properly

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Sebastien Bourdais has posted his latest update on his recovery process from pelvic fractures and hip injuries on Thursday morning, as the Frenchman continues to get back on track after his accident in qualifying May 20 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bourdais, who was discharged from hospital, returned to IMS track on Indianapolis 500 race day and has since come back home to Florida, said he is progressing well in his recovery and said he is close to walking properly again.

This week is a bit of a tough one for Bourdais, as he isn’t on site in Le Mans with a chance to defend his crown at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as he won the GTE-Pro class in the No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT with Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand last year.

However, Bourdais’ stead is being filled by Le Mans rookie Tony Kanaan, who is thoroughly soaking up the experience and admits he has the pressure to try to win to match Bourdais’ shoes!

Kanaan made his Ford GT race debut at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, a race the same trio of Mueller, Hand and Bourdais won here in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“Seb is French, he lives here, and he won the race, so no pressure!! Very, very easy!” Kanaan laughed to reporters at Le Mans this week.

Bourdais told Motorsport.com earlier this week the unexpected upside of his injuries was that he was happy not to be in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most recent race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Three drivers have taken his place thus far in his No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing since, with James Davison (Indianapolis 500), Esteban Gutierrez (Detroit) and Tristan Vautier (Texas) on board.

Kanaan after Texas: ‘Everybody is entitled to a bad day’

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Ahead of his biggest racing debut in years, as Tony Kanaan reverts back to being a rookie ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Kanaan reflected on his role in last Saturday night’s chaotic Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Kanaan finished a season-best second in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after an eventful night. He was involved in the eight-car pileup on Lap 152 that took a lot of cars out, and was penalized with a stop-and-hold plus 20-second penalty for blocking and avoidable contact. Earlier in the race, he came in contact with Alexander Rossi. Despite losing a couple laps, Kanaan recovered them on wave-bys and drove near to the front before the race ended under yellow.

Speaking to reporters at Le Mans, Kanaan explained the nature of the relationship he has with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series driver fraternity and how he took – and endured – a beating after a rare “off night” in terms of his on-track driving style.

“We’re very unified. I’m one of the drivers that runs the drivers’ association and I think one of the biggest things that we did was try and bring everybody together,” Kanaan explained. “We’re a big family, we race and there are rivalries and stuff, but I don’t know. I don’t have the explanation as to why it’s different from here, but we’re definitely really tight.

“I got a lot of heat last weekend, for sure. My phone was getting bombarded by all the drivers. I got to talk to some of the guys that I needed to apologize to.

“Everybody is entitled to have a bad day, and I think if you admit that and we’re cool, we’re all drivers and we understand what we can and we can’t do.

“At the end of the day, I think for some reason we like each other! We like each other a lot, we think about the big picture and we try to make the series better. Although only one guy wins, I think a lot of the guys there don’t have big egos, and that helps a lot.”

Kanaan said the way the race style played out reverted back to what he termed, like others in the field, a pack race. Granted this was not at the level of low-horsepower pack races back in the IRL days – Kanaan survived through many of those as part of his 20-year career – but it was the closest thing to it since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012.

Interestingly, the driver meant to be racing at Le Mans instead of Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, lit into IndyCar’s Texas race in a Motorsport.com article. Kanaan wasn’t quite as graphic in his description.

“Yeah it was totally unexpected,” Kanaan said. “They had changed the race track, the layout of the track, and I didn’t expect the track to be like that. At the end of the day, it became a big, big pack race. I can assure you it will change that for next year.

“It’s a full package. It’s not just the cars. I think the tires as well, we didn’t have any tire degradation, the tires were too good. Everybody had a good car all the way to the end and that obviously didn’t spread the field out.”

Kanaan was able to recover the lost time thanks in part to the competition cautions, which were decided in collaboration between INDYCAR and Firestone owing to blisters that were occurring on multiple cars. Kanaan had no problem with the mutual decision to implement these cautions.

“For me obviously it was a safety issue there, because we were blowing tires, so I don’t think it was a bad thing,” he said.

“I mean we had to create that because Helio had blown the tires with blisters, and Firestone didn’t want to jeopardize anybody’s health. I think at that point it was necessary and we had to do it.”

The dream now shifts to Kanaan’s overdue Le Mans debut, with defending GTE-Pro class winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in Bourdais’ stead, sharing the No. 68 Ford GT.

Kanaan completed his requisite 15 laps in the first and only pre-qualifying practice earlier at Le Mans today; as a Platinum-rated rookie he needed only five laps to qualify to compete at Le Mans. Other rookies need to complete 10 laps.

“It’s not bad when you have a weekend off and they invite you to come to Le Mans. It’s a good problem to have,” Kanaan laughed.

“I’m glad that I get to do it and hopefully add some trophies to my trophy case. (If I win, it’d be) at the same level as my 500 and my Daytona 24 Hour win. There is one space for that!

“Seb is French, he lives here, and he won the race, so no pressure!! Very, very easy!”

Kanaan is now set for the first Le Mans qualifying session, which begins shortly at 10 p.m. local time in France, 4 p.m. ET.

Luke Smith contributed to this report from Le Mans 

Kanaan laments tough Texas race after finishing second (VIDEO)

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Even though Tony Kanaan finished second, his best finish of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, he was far from happy following the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway.

Being in the crosshairs in two major accidents, then getting a stop-and-hold plus 20 second penalty for blocking and avoidable contact after the second one, forced him a lap down and needed a comeback to be triggered. But multiple cautions – some of them INDYCAR mandated competition cautions that were surprise additions – brought him back into contention.

Early in the race on lap 38, he and teammate Scott Dixon went three-wide around Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, with Rossi getting pinched and crashing in turn three.

Much later, on lap 153 and again running three-wide, Kanaan drifted up into the car of James Hinchcliffe, who simultaneously had Mikhail Aleshin flanking him on his right side. The squeeze and contact between the three sent Hinchcliffe into a spin that collected Aleshin and a host of others in a pileup that caused a red flag.

“I guess I’m being blamed about everything,” Kanaan deadpanned to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt after the incident.

“Um, I think I definitely moved a bit to the right. There’s a bump. I tried to avoid it.

“I moved up a little bit for sure. I hate to do that. That wasn’t on purpose. It’s a shame. That’s not the way I drive. We got the penalty. We paid it. We raced back. It is what it is.”

With a little bit more time to cool down, Kanaan was apologetic in the post-race press conference, as he explained further.

“There was a bump going into Turn 3 there, and I think — I guess I moved up, and I really have to apologize to (Hinchcliffe),” he lamented.

“I’m definitely going to go see him if he wants to see me or I’ll call him. But yeah, and I guess it was a close call. I moved up, and we hit. I’m really — it’s sad. I don’t do those kind of things. I race people clean, and I want people to race me clean.”

Hinchcliffe’s take on Kanaan’s role in the accident was this, to NBCSN: “He comes over… 2.5 car widths, and he drives me straight into Mikhail. We were three-wide. Either the spotter didn’t tell him, or he didn’t care. He usually doesn’t race like that. He’s so far away, right, right right, the corner’s left. It turned into more of a pack race. It took a lot of good cars out.”

Kanaan was also taken aback by the style of racing this year at the 1.5-mile oval. Due to the repaving and reconfiguration that saw banking in turns one and two reduced, he was firm in his belief ahead of the night that pack racing was out of the question. But, he quickly found out the exact opposite was true.

“Lap 6: (Tristan) Vautier passed everybody on the outside, I’m like ‘I was not expecting that.’ And then he started to clean it up there. So no, honestly, if you look at my pre-race interview, I’m like ‘No way.’ Oh, boy, I was wrong. So wrong.”

Kanaan also asserted that, while he’s a fan of the new layout and enjoys the atmosphere and fans at Texas Motor Speedway, he does not want this type of racing to be the norm on big ovals.

“It was our first race back because of the construction. We didn’t really have a lot of time to test here. Yeah, man, this is my opinion. I don’t think we should be doing this the way it is. We should be coming to Texas. The fans are great. This track is awesome. But I think we should change the format a little bit. How, I don’t know. We’ve got to figure it out,” he detailed.

Kanaan’s second-place finish does move him up to eighth in the championship on 264 points, 64 markers back of teammate Scott Dixon for the championship lead.

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