Ganassi’s Kimball, Briscoe break through with pair of top-six results in GP of Indy

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This was one post I wanted to hit in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but between some of the other story lines, it waited a couple days.

But for the Novo Nordisk and NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing teams, the GP of Indy day was a needed result for both Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Both drivers sought to break through earlier this year and on Saturday, they ended fifth and sixth, respectively for their best finishes of the young season. And yet both could have been better if not for tough breaks.

Kimball had a shot at the podium if the Honda runners who ended 1-2, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay, needed to pit for a splash of fuel.

source: Getty Images
Briscoe and Kimball at Barber. Photo: Getty Images

“My engineer, Brad Goldberg, and my team manager, Tom Wurtz, gave me the right pit stops at the right times and just let me go race the car,” Kimball said. “There were so many different strategies going on and all of those yellows made it challenging for our strategy because we had to run hard towards the end just to get back up into the top five after that last stop.”

And Briscoe had a drive-through penalty for a pit safety violation assessed earlier in the race, but he was able to rebound.

“It’s a really exciting result for us,” Briscoe said. “I wasn’t confident after we got the penalty in pit lane early on in the race, but we had a couple of really strong restarts and the car just came to us as the rubber went down on the track. The No. 8 NTT DATA Chevrolet just got better and better as we went through the race.”

Both made huge points gains, with Kimball jumping from 23rd to 16th, and Briscoe from 16th to 11th.

Keep an eye on these two the rest of the month. Briscoe and Kimball are both in the “sneaky good” category at IMS – Briscoe having won the 2012 Indianapolis 500 pole and Kimball having finished in the top-10 each of the last two years.

They worked together as teammates for the first time at this race one year ago, and with the resources of the entire Chip Ganassi Racing organization (the Target pair of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are involved in debriefs) and Chevrolet’s record on fuel mileage the last two years, here’s two guys who would not surprise if they wound up in victory lane on May 25.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).