Dixon, Franchitti in 2nd Ganassi prototype for GRAND-AM Laguna Seca

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After this coming Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the IZOD IndyCar Series will go idle for more than a month. That makes for a lot of free time, and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be spending some of theirs in a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype.

With help from Ganassi backer Cessna Aircraft Company, Dixon and Franchitti will run a second CGR prototype, the No. 02 Cessna BMW/Riley, alongside full-timers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (No. 01 Telcel-TELMEX BMW/Riley) in the Rolex Series’ race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 8.

The event on California’s Monterey Peninsula will be the penultimate round for the Rolex Series in 2013, and Pruett and Rojas, the defending Rolex DP champions, are sitting just five points out of first place in this year’s title battle.

With Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10; drivers Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli), Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa of Action Express Racing, Starworks Motorsport (No. 2; drivers Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99; drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty) and Ganassi’s No. 01 all going at it for the crown, one has to wonder if Dixon and Franchitti’s No. 02 could have a major impact on the proceedings.

“Anytime you can pair two of the best IndyCar drivers out there in the same car makes for an immediate contender,” said Chip Ganassi Racing Teams president Steve Lauletta in a statement.

“We try and assemble an impressive lineup in the No. 02 car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona each season, and this year we’ve been able to provide more opportunities for our sponsors, like with Tony Kanaan and Joey Hand at Indianapolis, and now Scott and Dario for Cessna at Laguna Seca.”

Dixon and Franchitti were part of the No. 02 team for this year’s Rolex 24, in which they finished 11th in DP and 37th overall after a crash and then a subsequent mechanical failure.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500