Several changes, but a fast start needed for Ganassi to open 2015

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As some of the pieces of Chip Ganassi Racing team entries are maneuvered around ahead of the 2015 season, there’s one thing that needs to improve compared to the last two years: results at the start of the season.

Scott Dixon has delivered an incredible streak of eight years in a row finishing in the top three in points, but the last two years have seen him struggle a bit out of the gate in most races.

Tony Kanaan took a few races to get comfortable in the climate after switching from KV Racing Technology in 2013.

Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe had decent first halves, but improved more in the second half of the year.

All told, CGR has played from behind the last couple years since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 in 2012. They’ve also had a number of changes to work though both last year and this one.

Last year, the team change at the start of the year was a switch from Honda to Chevrolet engines. On the driver side, Kanaan replaced the retired Dario Franchitti, who moved into a team advisor role, and Briscoe joined as the team re-added a fourth car after one year without it.

This year, the big changes are the adoption of the new Chevrolet aero kits, and a rotation of the team’s four engineers. Chris Simmons, Franchitti’s longtime engineer, moves to Dixon’s car as Eric Bretzman has been reassigned to Ganassi’s NASCAR program.

Kanaan’s longtime engineer Eric Cowdin will work with rookie Sage Karam. Meanwhile Todd Malloy joins the team from Bryan Herta Autosport, and will work with Kanaan.

For both Dixon and Kanaan, the chance to develop the new aero kits presents a revived opportunity for the first time since earlier in their careers in CART when they had a new chassis every year.

“It’s been split up between the teams. The Phoenix test is all we could go off,” Dixon said during the IndyCar media day in February. “The loads were higher, speeds faster. It’s a track we never ran at before. The track has gone through a change, different corner radius, banking, all that kind of stuff. Kind of hard for a reference.

“I think we understand the car is going to be more efficient on both sides of the fence with both manufacturers. Physically the cars are going to become more demanding.

“It’s kind of all we know at this point until we get to tracks and see comparative times, the loads in competitive environments rather than just fact checking.”

Kanaan liked his first laps in the car as well at Phoenix, early in the testing process.

“It’s hard to give a comparison because it was on a track that I hadn’t driven the new DW12 currently. But it felt good.

“We had a pretty good day there. We did maybe like 500 miles in one day. It was very reliable and it felt good.”

Dixon and Kanaan have both opened their 2015 campaigns with a win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They hope to build off what have been difficult starts the last couple years.

Dixon has finished in the top five in four of the first 10 races, each of the last two years. Last year, Dixon ended the year with seven top-fives in eight races; the year before, it was seven in nine, including four wins.

In his first year with CGR, Kanaan only had one top-five finish in the first 11 races, before ending with five in the last seven.

Briscoe’s improvements were subtler. After six top-12 finishes in the opening 10 races, Briscoe matched that number in the last eight, including five top-10s.

Kimball finished each of the last nine races after posting three DNFs in the opening nine.

Karam replaces Briscoe in the team’s fourth car for this year. Right now, the Indy Lights champion is only confirmed for the first race of the season in St. Petersburg, but is expected to run further races.

Collectively, the quartet is working from a one team, one goal standpoint to start stronger this year.

“We obviously work very hard as a team. At Chip Ganassi Racing, it’s open book, and we try to push the envelope to advance all the cars,” Dixon said.

“Some days you have to understand maybe it’s not your day. But when it comes down to the wire, you’re going to fight your teammates as hard as anybody else. The last thing we get told is to make sure you don’t crash each other out of the race by Chip. That’s something we focus on. In the past we’ve done a pretty good job of that and hopefully that continues.”

“To have all the IndyCars under one roof, really working well together as a group and organization translates well,” Kimball added. “When you finish 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, I don’t think the boss cares who wins the race as long as one of his cars wins and one of his cars wins second.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a bigger smile when Scott, Dario and I finished 1-2-3 on the podium at Pocono a couple years ago, so we’d like to replicate that again coming up.”

And ideally for the team, they’d want to do it earlier in the year rather than later.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.