Chip Ganassi Racing

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Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.

Kimball: Time to move on, bank results that match No. 83 team’s pace

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First-lap incidents in the first two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have left Charlie Kimball and the No. 83 Tresiba Honda team reeling and in need of a simple, clean weekend at this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Kimball’s one of six drivers in the 21-driver field who has qualified in the top-10 in both races so far, with ninth at St. Petersburg and seventh at Long Beach two very solid runs. In fact the Long Beach grid position is the best of his seven-year, 100-plus start career on street courses, supplanting an eighth at Detroit race one last year.

Alas, comings-together with Graham Rahal at St. Petersburg and Will Power in Long Beach, both at places where passing is difficult, have left him mired in 21st and last in the standings with 18th and last place finishes.

Needless to say, Kimball is hoping bad things don’t come in threes this weekend, as he’s keen on putting the past behind him.

“Obviously it’s been a tough start. It’s been frustrating,” Kimball told NBC Sports. “The results haven’t shown the true speed and pace of the team. Rolling off in ninth and seventh to start – seventh at Long Beach is my best street course qualifying effort ever – is great, but of course no one is talking about that.

“But the encouraging thing for me is the speed is there, in the car. We’re working better as a team and group. I believe in the 83 crew, in the work Eric (Cowdin, engineer), Scott (Harner, strategist) and Danielle (Shepherd, assistant engineer) are doing.

“We need a nice clean weekend. After testing, we know Phoenix next week is going to be challenging. So coming to Barber this weekend we need to put the past behind us.”

Kimball cleared the air with past Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Rahal after St. Petersburg, and said the door is open for Power to do the same after their second dust-up in four races (Watkins Glen last year). Power tried down Kimball’s inside at the challenging, tight right-hand Turn 4 and although was more than halfway alongside, the pair collided on corner exit with Kimball’s day done on the spot and Power struggling to 13th the rest of the race after front wing damage.

“Graham and I cleared the air really soon after St. Pete. There was a little disagreement and everyone’s entitled to an opinion,” Kimball said.

“I’m happy to have a conversation with Will. He hasn’t reached out to me. He was fired up; I’ll let him take the lead.

“I talked to the stewards and people within the industry. It was a racing incident. Will and I obviously both see it different. But I’m happy to have a conversation and a rational discussion with him. If you can talk about it privately, that’s when it’s meaningful.”

The race results don’t show it but seeing Kimball start this strongly in qualifying out of the gate means he’s gelled well in adapting to the Honda aero kit and engine, as has teammate Max Chilton who’s also seeking an improved result this weekend, when both had optimized the Chevrolet package last year.

“So far I’ve got most of it. The improvement in qualifying is natural progression,” said Kimball, who only once last season qualified in the top-10 in consecutive races – 10th at Barber and second at the INDYCAR Grand Prix – as part of six top-10 starts during the season.

“Part of it is experience-based. Being able to use the data and learn from the data of my teammates is huge, and Scott (Dixon) & Tony (Kanaan) are still two of the best in the series. Having Dario in his mentor/driving coach role as well is invaluable. When we take a step in qualifying, lately it’s been a one-way street. We’re not backsliding like we used to.”

Barber could be a welcome tonic for Kimball, as it’s one of his better tracks.

He scored his first career IndyCar top-10 finish here, 10th in 2011 from 21st on the grid in just his second start. He scored his first Firestone Fast Six appearance in 2013, qualifying fifth and finishing fourth after, incidentally, a dynamic late-race pass on Power for position. He’s been a steady 10th, 12th and ninth here the last three years.

“It’s a particularly challenging, technical track, with high, low and medium-speed corners,” Kimball explained. “If you were to say, pick a track with absolutely everything, it’s right there with Watkins Glen and Road America and has become a classic.

“This will be a challenge for the engineers. Friday and Saturday is hot, and Sunday cooler. Plus with having five or six different other rubber types here this weekend, that grip change is really noticeable when it’s hot. The oils come out differently. It adds another layer to the race weekend itself. Myself and Eric just need to stay focused to how we need to be doing, and try to best manage those things outside our control.”

A good trivia game appearance with friends earlier this week seems to have lifted his spirits, with success coming this week after a struggle in an earlier game. He hopes that off-track fun can translate on-track into a good run of form, starting with Barber this week in the first week of a back-to-back run between here and Phoenix.

“We had a really rough trivia experience over the weekend. We got whooped on!” Kimball laughed. “But a friend told me, ‘The thing about champions is they have short memories.’ We played a great game Monday night.

“So to me, I’m gonna try to apply the same principle here, and use that momentum for a great rest of year.”

Max Chilton anxious for road courses to avenge slow start to 2017

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While Scott Dixon has gotten the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams/Honda reunion off to a strong start in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, his teammates have been less fortunate.

Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball have each been involved in two incidents in both of the first two races.

Meanwhile series sophomore Max Chilton has been stuck in a weird spot altogether. The Englishman has had improved testing pace to where he nearly led the series’ open test at Barber Motorsports Park last month and qualified seventh at St. Petersburg, but endured an anonymous weekend off pace in Long Beach.

The driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was caught out by the Kanaan/Mikhail Aleshin contact and yellow flag at St. Petersburg when in a top-10 position and fell to 16th there; retirements helped turned a frustrating 20th place start into a respectable, if still unsatisfying, 14th place at Long Beach. It leaves him 19th in points through two races, although just six points behind 10th place.

With Chilton having excelled most on the permanent road courses last year – he qualified 11th at Barber, seventh at Road America and sixth at Watkins Glen – a turnaround in fortunes is due on the agenda for the likable Englishman, who turns 26 on Friday starting this weekend.

“I think you’ve nailed it on the head to be honest,” Chilton told NBC Sports last week. “The Long Beach weekend put a spanner in the works – I don’t have the answer why we didn’t have the pace we did elsewhere. I’d made the Fast Six or close a couple times last year. Then we were P2 at the Barber test, and was quick at Sonoma.

“We were very quick at St. Pete and got screwed at the race, but Long Beach we had no pace. We tried changing the car every time we were out. It was a head-scratcher. Drivers do get weekends like that. It was a good weekend for us. The result wasn’t the end of the world, so we got some points. It’s a weekend to forget. Hopefully we have stronger weekend in Barber.”

Chilton has adapted to the street courses in IndyCar although admits he could do without Detroit, easily his least favorite track on the calendar. But he has a natural affinity for the permanent road courses and provided the Honda enhancements that have come to start the year continue, he thinks Barber could be the sign of a needed turnaround.

“I’ve always quite liked street circuits and done quite well on them. But the American ones are so different,” he said. “Detroit, I’ll admit I don’t like it there! I just don’t get to grips with it. It’s too much a rallycross track.

“But I’m looking forward to these ones – Barber, Elkhart Lake’s Road America, Watkins Glen, the fast, flowing tracks I was brought in up. Barber for me is such a great event, not just a great track. It’s’ a fantastic atmosphere, and there’s plenty of people in RVs. The track is absolutely pristine – like you want any event to be. I’ve been watching The Masters. It’s not a million miles from Augusta. If I owned a race course, that’d be the one I want.”

Chilton’s had a slight change to his timing stand this year with Ganassi technical director Julian Robertson taking over as strategist, working in tandem with engineer Brandon Fry. The two have meshed well in spite of the tough results thus far.

“He’s fantastic. It helps that he’s a fellow Brit so we bounce off each other well,” Chilton said. “His knowledge is mind-blowing. But because he’s been Ganassi that whole time, he is their IndyCar team. He works very well with Brandon to come up with the strategies. Brandon now has someone to help make the decision with strategy. He’ll say something. It’s always better to have two than one.”

Chilton hailed the Honda’s fuel economy and low-end torque as the noticeable improvements he’s picked up on so far.

The Reigate, England-based native still commutes to and from the U.S. as he did in 2016, preferring the comforts of home instead of a more regular relocation. Chilton said he’s already accomplished five or six of his planned 13 intercontinental trips this season, and with his wedding to his fiancé Chloe on the horizon in August, that’s taken up a bit of his planning.

Beyond the road courses, Chilton is bullish on having a good month of May and with Honda, he’s optimistic that’s more possible.

“For us, Indy’s the one for us. A good Indy for us would mean the rest of the year really doesn’t matter.”

Dixon tops Saturday practice at Long Beach

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Scott Dixon was back atop the speed charts during the third practice for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Dixon’s quick time of 1:07.1348 came in the final minutes of the session, making it the second time he’s led practice this weekend (he topped opening practice on Friday).

Ryan Hunter-Reay made it a Honda 1-2, also turning his fast lap in the final minutes. Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, and Takuma Sato ran third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais had an awkward start to the day, making light contact with the barriers in turn three. However, only the front wing suffered damage, and it was light damage at that, allowing Bourdais to quickly rejoin the session after brief repairs. He ended the session in ninth.

Two other drivers experienced hardships during third practice. Tony Kanaan suffered mechanical gremlins, which actually kept him from running for most of the session. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver suffered a sensor issue that the team had trouble diagnosing. However, they did manage to make repairs and Kanaan ran five laps in the final minutes to record the 15th best time. “We had a sensor issue that I wasn’t aware of. It took a long time but the guys did a great job to get me out for five laps,” he told IndyCar radio afterward. “It’s not good when you’re struggling. But great job by NTT Data guys. (I) wasn’t expecting to be out this session.”

James Hinchliffe, too, had problems of his own after leading much of the session before finishing up in fourth. He ran wide into the turn one runoff area and rejoined running slowly near the end of practice, though it was unclear if he had a problem or was being cautious.

Practice 3 times are below. Qualifying begins at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 PT and local time), and airs an hour later at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT) on NBCSN.

Ganassi open to Kyle Larson in Indy 500 – another year

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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) As the Indianapolis 500 draws near, the tweets starts flooding Chip Ganassi’s inbox all asking the same question: When will he enter Kyle Larson in the Indy 500?

Larson wants to run the race, and Ganassi is open to entering the budding NASCAR star. But it has to make sense for the team, driver and organization.

“I think it’s just a matter of us having the right people and the right timing, and obviously it takes sponsorship,” Ganassi said. “Every time this gets talked about, it’s in April or May. Nobody ever wants to talk about it in June or July or August when it’s time to plan for the next year.

“All these social media people want to blow you up, `Let’s do it!’ Well, it takes a little bit of planning.”

Larson is the current points leader in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series, and his first win of the season came two weeks ago at Phoenix. He also has three runner-up finishes through the first six races of the year.

Ganassi said there’s no way to enter Larson for next month’s showcase race in Indy, but he’d be hesitant anyway right now.

“Nobody wants to upset what’s going on already,” Ganassi said. “So obviously we are not talking about this May, but a lot can happen between this May and next May. I also think Kyle understands he can’t just get in and push the pedals. He’s starting to understand there’s a little more to it, and I think he’s starting to enjoy himself a little more in NASCAR.”

Ganassi is an enviable position in that there’s no shortage of drivers available should he want to field a fifth car at Indianapolis. His equipment is strong and Honda makes a huge push each year to win the race.

He said that doesn’t mean that Larson isn’t “at or near the top of the list,” but that the car owner can’t snap his fingers and produce a car for Indy.

“I think Kyle understands, we have to weigh what’s good for Kyle and what’s good for the business,” Ganassi said. “If it’s a bad thing for the business, he knows that it doesn’t work. Right now there’s some other things the team needs to work on.

“If he really wants to do it, then we’ll sit down and have a talk about doing it.”

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