IndyCar: Ganassi team has better qualifying in search of second straight win

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. – Poised to play spoilers and perhaps, in Scott Dixon’s case, sneak into championship contention, the Chip Ganassi Racing team enjoyed a banner qualifying day while prior practice pacesetters Andretti Autosport struggled at The Milwaukee Mile.

Team Penske has two of the top three spots on the grid for Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but Ganassi has three of the top six. Interestingly, only Dixon in 11th starts outside that top half-dozen.

Tony Kanaan nearly captured the pole but for a lift in Turns 1 and 2, that was enough to send his Huggies-backed No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to second on the grid.

“I tried to go flat through 1-2 and got greedy; it was about Tony Kanaan being too greedy,” Kanaan said post-qualifying, while dropping a rare mention of himself in the third person.

“I had to try it. I’d be bragging if I did. Not a bad qualifying. We should be top five.”

Kanaan is, and on the strength of leading 325 laps in the last two oval races at Iowa (247) and Pocono (78), is primed to capture his first win of the year on Sunday.

“We’re no different than Iowa, so that tells you where we’re at. But we’ll still need a clean day,” Kanaan said.

“We did some long runs this afternoon. Pretty pleased. We have a good car, but it means nothing actually. We didn’t lead the right laps at Iowa.”

The NTT Data and Novo Nordisk-backed entries of Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball qualified fourth and sixth, respectively. Briscoe is a prior Milwaukee race winner and polesitter, but Kimball had never qualified better than 18th in three prior Milwaukee starts.

“On Lap 1 in first practice I was pretty fast, then we made some changes and lost it. So then we were conservative and went back to that,” Briscoe said. “It was the safe thing to do.

“I squeezed 90 percent out of it. To go from a 22.9 (second lap) last session to 21.6 is a big jump.”

Added Kimball, who estimated he’d got 90-95 percent out of the car, “We got pretty close. There’s still some things I learned. I had a good convo with Dario, and he was pretty solid around here. He taught me how to approach this place mentally. I had to carry that advise and experience. I got 90-95 percent of it today. More for me to learn. We’ll do better tomorrow.”

Oddly it’s Dixon, in 11th, who went out last and by all rights could have snatched the pole from Will Power, but wasn’t able to hit the balance. But considering he started dead last, 22nd, and won last race at Mid-Ohio, starting from half that distance should make things a bit simpler.

For the team, which hadn’t won all season until Dixon last race, it now has an excellent shot at two-in-a-row.

Valtteri Bottas on Silverstone pole; Nico Hulkenberg a surprising third

F1 Bottas Hamilton Silverstone
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Valtteri Bottas nipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone qualifying Saturday to maintain the team’s hammerlock on F1 results this season while Nico Hulkenberg was a surprise in third.

Hulkenberg is filling in for Sergio Perez for the second consecutive race while the Racing Point driver recovers from coronavirus.

It’s the best F1 start since 2016 for Hulkenberg, who was left without a full-time ride after the 2019 season. He finished 20th at Silverstone last week when an engine problem on the grid prevented him ftaking the green.

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“The last seven to eight days have been crazy,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying. “This weekend I felt much better prepared. Q3 was just head down, full beans, and give it whatever I had.

“I’m a bit surprised to be standing here, but there’s a big smile on my face.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fourth and will be among the field trying to derail the Mercedes duo that has won the first four races of an F1 season delayed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Feels good,” Bottas said after nipping Hamilton by a few hundredths of a second on his final lap for his 13th career pole position. ” I just love qualifying especially, when it goes well. Proud to drive this car. The race pace is there, so our first job is to get a good start off the line tomorrow and go from there.”

The impressive lap came two days after Bottas, who won the season opener in Austria, announced a one-year contract extension with the team.

Mercedes also is set to begin negotiating a new deal with Hamilton, who has won the past three races in F1 but was disappointed Saturday.

“Valtteri did a great job, but for me, it wasn’t a perfect last lap,” he said. “I don’t think many teams will be doing a one-stop race tomorrow so let’s wait and see how things turn out.”