Max Chilton

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.

Max Chilton tied the knot in England this weekend (PHOTOS)

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Max Chilton and longtime girlfriend Chloe Roberts got married this weekend at St Michael’s Church in Betchworth in his home county of Surrey, England.

The likable young couple have been together for years, having gotten engaged last March. They are now embarking on their third season together in North America, as Chilton arrived in the U.S. ahead of the 2015 Indy Lights season with Carlin, where he won his first race on the Iowa Speedway oval in July of that year.

In two seasons in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Chilton’s best runs this year came in back-to-back races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, first with a drive up to seventh from 14th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and then leading a race-high 50 laps at the 101st Indianapolis 500, before finishing fourth. He’ll have a shot for his first win at the next 500-mile race on the calendar, the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Pocono Raceway this weekend in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

A few photos from Chilton’s wedding are below, which saw teammate Scott Dixon and wife Emma and driver coach Dario Franchitti and wife Ellie among those in attendance.

Chilton then already noted the fun part of married life, when receiving traditional English breakfast tea.

Sophomores Rossi, Chilton explain IndyCar present vs. F1 past (VIDEO)

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Alexander Rossi won last year’s Indianapolis 500 and Max Chilton nearly won this year’s – not bad results for two ex-Formula 1 drivers with the Manor team who’ve now found happy homes in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Andretti-Herta Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing, respectively.

In this video from Mobil 1 The Grid, posted above, Rossi and Chilton explain the differences between the F1 and IndyCar worlds, and how much they’ve enjoyed adapting to the more open, friendly and competitive world of IndyCar.

Rossi also penned an excellent column for RACER at the weekend noting his own transformation about oval racing, and how he’s moved from being terrified of the prospect of racing on ovals to appreciating them so much.

Both are in the top-10 in points through the fourth of six Verizon IndyCar Series oval races this year, Rossi ninth and Chilton 10th. Despite improved performance, Rossi has endured a lot of bad luck and only has a best finish of fifth while Chilton’s fourth place at the ‘500 is his best result of the season.

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.

Ganassi teams dominate Texas qualifying

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All four of Chip Ganassi Racing’s entries in the Verizon IndyCar Series came out swinging in qualifying for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (tonight, 8 p.m ET, NBCSN).

The Ganassi squad locked out the front row for the first time this year, with Kimball scoring the first pole of his IndyCar career and the 89th for Ganassi’s IndyCar operation.

Behind Kimball, the team’s other three entries served noticed that Ganassi might be the squad to beat this weekend. Scott Dixon makes his fourth appearance on the front row in 2017 and will start alongside Kimball in second. Tony Kanaan (fourth) and Max Chilton (sixth) enjoyed strong efforts in their own right to put all four Ganassi cars in the top six.

Polesitter Kimball was understandably elated with the result and offered thanks to his team for its support.

“(The team team has) had my back all year long through the good, the bad, the ugly. We haven’t really had much great (results) yet this year except for today, so it was nice to pay them back with this pole,” Kimball explained after qualifying.

Kimball has endured a run of tough luck in the first half of the season, highlighted by crashes on the opening lap of each of the first two races and an engine failure while battling for the lead in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil. He explained that scoring a pole is a great reward for the effort the entire team puts in.

“They work so hard, especially this race being the end of a string of so many races back-to-back, the fact that we’ve shown our resilience as well as we have is — by getting this pole is an indication of how great a team I have working with me,” Kimball detailed.

However, as Scott Dixon explained, qualifying pace is not necessarily indicative of strong race pace. And, given the characteristics of Texas Motor Speedway, the winner can come from anywhere on the grid.

“I think (qualifying well) helps just keeping yourself out of trouble, but as we’ve seen in the past, if you’ve got a good car, you can come from the back here,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be about maintaining speed, probably for the last 20 laps of the stint,” he said of the impact of qualifying well.

Kanaan, too, kept his expectations muted, despite a strong showing in qualifying. “I feel like we put together a really good lap and I’m happy with where we are in terms of speed right now in the NTT Data car. We still have a little work to do though,” he revealed after qualifying.

The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 rolls off tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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