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.