Chevrolet’s Bowtie Brigade in IndyCar gets bigger with Ganassi

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Chip Ganassi Racing took advantage of this afternoon’s track repair delay at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston to announce that Tony Kanaan would join the team in a fourth car sponsored by NTT Data next season.

But we all knew it was only a matter of time before that particular announcement went official. However, Chevrolet still made sure there would be a surprise by announcing that the Ganassi camp would defect from Honda and take on Bowtie power in 2014.

It’s a major development for Chevy. If it retains Andretti Autosport, that would see Chevrolet supply all three of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ “Big Three” teams. Ganassi and Team Penske and Andretti, which would be 12 cars.

Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell said the manufacturer could go above its 40 percent of the field threshold, a number set by IndyCar as a part of its contract.

Meanwhile, Honda is now set to lose its top American open-wheel franchise.

“This decision makes a lot of sense for us for a number of reasons,” Ganassi said in a statement. “We feel Chevrolet has done a great job in their return to the IndyCar Series and because of our existing relationship with them in NASCAR.

“There are a lot of synergies that we will be able to realize in working with the same manufacturer across the two series. We are thrilled.”

With the Ganassi NASCAR and IndyCar programs soon to both be under the Chevy banner (the NASCAR program having been with Chevy since the 2009 season), the obvious question is whether or not Ganassi’s sports car side will do the same.

That group currently runs with BMW power in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, which is soon to merge with the American Le Mans Series into the TUDOR United SportsCar Series.

However, both Ganassi team managing director Mike Hull and Chevrolet’s Campbell didn’t quite point in that direction during this afternoon’s press conference.

“I don’t know about that,” Hull said about the possibility of consolidating all of Ganassi’s programs with Chevy. “The opportunity has come to be able to do this and we’re excited.”

Campbell would only say that he’s been pleased with his company’s sports car efforts thus far.

“If you look at how we’re structured…With our Corvette program in ALMS, we’ve run with Pratt & Miller and won seven of 14 24 Hours of Le Mans,” he said. “We have a terrific lineup on the Daytona Prototype side – this year, Wayne Taylor Racing won the championship with Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli.

“I like our sports car lineup, and as I look forward, our opportunity to partner with Chip is stock car racing and open wheel.”

Chevrolet and Honda are currently tied for the 2013 manufacturer’s championship, with Honda having won five of the last six races to close their early season gap. But it appears that Chevy has gained the early edge for 2014.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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