With three finishes outside the top-14 on Sunday, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams did not kick off its 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the manner it would have wanted.
Granted, Tony Kanaan was able to salvage a third place, but teammate Scott Dixon ran through the gamut of issues in an ultimately frustrating opening weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Dixon noted the team’s different testing strategy, opting to test more at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park rather than Sebring International Raceway, which is the best track to test for street course conditions.
“We haven’t been to Sebring since last year man,” Dixon told MotorSportsTalk on Tuesday. “The car at St. Pete generally was OK, considering we’d done zero street course tire testing, and haven’t been to Sebring like most teams.”
Dixon had been to Sebring a week before St. Petersburg, but as third driver in CGR’s No. 01 Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
At St. Petersburg, Dixon said he was comfortable on pace in the practice sessions but failed his timing during qualifying en route to getting knocked out in Q2. He qualified ninth for the season opener.
“Ultimately yeah for sure, the car was better than what I showed,” Dixon said. “We hit the track OK. We backed up on a few things.
“The 9 car was strong until qualifying, then in Q2, coming up to my second timed lap, (Simon) Pagenaud was stopped in T10, and then I had to get out of TK’s way when he was on a flier. So I only had one lap to get it together and I fudged it up. The car was better than what I got out of it.”
Of course, if qualifying was bad, the race went worse for Dixon. An air jack failure occurred at his first stop, and as Dixon related, it likely was a small single cheap part failure that caused the issue.
“It looks like the dump valve … which is something Ganassi has had the same type of part for 15 years,” Dixon said. “I could be wrong as I’m not the technical guy … but we think the dump valve seal failed. Go figure a $2 or $5 piece broke and wouldn’t allow the rear air jacks to work.
“Your first thought is that it was the one in the back. We tried to see if it would work. But with no chance of fixing it, you know your day’s done. Pit stops go from eight or nine seconds up to 20 seconds. It was a nightmare.”
Dixon said team owner Chip Ganassi at least laughed it off as a case of the standard early-race curse that seems to strike the team so frequently.
“The first thing that Chip said to me after was, ‘I guess it’s a regular St. Pete.’ I hate hearing that! We ended up fourth last year (and fifth in 2013).”
Being back in the pack – Dixon finished 15th on Sunday – meant Dixon had a bird’s eye view to the contact that took place around the 1.8-mile street circuit.
“It seemed a little harder to pass; the wake was bigger and washout was more,” Dixon said. “The braking zones got smaller as well with more downforce and more drag.
“I thought there’d be a lot more debris, it being the first race, street course, St. Pete out of the box. With the Honda front wing and the size that thing is, it’s ultimately gonna get taken off.
“I expected a fair number of cautions. There was a lot of debris, man. Everyone got through the first stop. But then it was in 9, 10, 2, 5… there was junk everywhere.”