Ganassi’s first 2015 test offers chance to build off latest second half surge

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The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season is still a couple months away from starting, but on-track preparation is about to begin this week.

Chip Ganassi Racing will be testing at NOLA Motorsports Park on Wednesday, the team’s first outing at the track.

“It’ll be the first time I’ve been to New Orleans since I was six years old,” noted CGR managing director Mike Hull, speaking to MotorSportsTalk at this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway.

But while thoughts of New Orleans always seem to center on its culture, nightlife and atmosphere, the team will be focused for its first day of running at the track itself, and building off winning three of the last four races to end 2014.

If there’s been one rare area where CGR hasn’t excelled in recent years, it’s in starting strong out of the gate, and it’s something Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, feels is important to correct in a year when aero kits are coming.

“We do NOLA (this) week and we did some other stuff before Christmas,” Dixon told MST at Daytona. “There isn’t any more body (kit) stuff until Barber I think. Some of the Chevy teams have completed it. We had our Sebring test in December (without the kits), and that helped to clarify a couple changes we did toward the end of the year.”

Dixon expects that along with longtime engineer Eric Bretzman, the team should be in a better spot earlier in 2015, having already had a year under its belt with the Chevrolet engine after switching from Honda last offseason.

“It should be easier now,” he explained. “We pushed pretty hard through the first part of the season with adjustability per driver. It should transition well now. We haven’t got the new engine specs yet. Right now we’ve had big breaks and not much testing. But once the season hits, it should be full go.”

Tony Kanaan, who ended the year on a tear with some excellent qualifying efforts, several podiums and a win in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway, also expects his second year to be even better in the now No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“I think it was the entire team, we started off slower than we wanted to,” Kanaan said. “We were all getting used to it. Even Scott was struggling.

“Once we found out what we had to do to make it better, we were both extremely strong. We won three races as a team, and in a championship that is so tight, that was a very good result.

“By the time I got used to it, and made changes in how I wanted to the car to be, we got to where we wanted to be the whole year.”

Both Dixon and Kanaan were at Daytona this weekend as part of CGR’s “all-star” second car, the No. 02 Riley-Ford they’ll share with CGR NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.