Chip Ganassi lobbying for IndyCar schedule changes

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INDIANAPOLIS – Chip Ganassi likes the improvements at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but still believes the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule could use some work.

“If I have any complaints about the condensed schedule, it’s hard on the teams,” the team owner said. “You have this hurry up thing for six months, and then we sit for six months. I think that’s a recipe for disaster. I think the schedule needs to be loosened and expanded a little bit.”

IndyCar opened March 29 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and will conclude Aug. 30 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

Last month, the circuit criss-crossed the country from New Orleans to Long Beach, Calif., to Birmingham, Ala., in three consecutive weeks. After Sunday’s 99th Indianapolis 500, IndyCar hits a stretch of three straight races at Detroit (a doubleheader), Texas Motor Speedway and Toronto.

“These guys need some rest,” Ganassi said. “We go right out of here to two races in Detroit. That’s hard on the guys. What happens is your race teams are finding other things to do — other series to get involved in, other racing — and it’s going to dilute from what we have here.”

Ganassi can actually speak to that, given he also has programs in NASCAR, the TUDOR Championship and, most recently, an introduction into Red Bull Global Rallycross.

Ganassi, who turns 57 Sunday, was in an upbeat mood Friday morning while addressing reporters at the track’s famous yard of bricks.

“I couldn’t be happier with all the additions they’ve made here,” he said, pointing to a new scoring pylon that made its debut last summer. “You see the new televisions going in, the new video screens. I’m excited to hear what they’re doing on the front straightaway with the seating. They’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

–Ganassi said he approved of the last-minute changes to the qualifying format to accommodate a spate of wrecks in which cars got airborne. “I’m not going to sit here and bad- mouth the organizers,” he said. “They had a situation. They made a decision. I think they made the right decision. I think it could have been made a lot earlier and quicker.”

–On pole-sitter Scott Dixon’s chances for Sunday: “I’m excited because I think he has a better race car than a qualifying car,” Ganassi said. “That’s what we’re most excited about. He’s Scott Dixon, you know the kind of racer he is. We’re pretty excited we have a good car. His chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

–On whether he will accede to NASCAR driver Kyle Larson’s desire to run Indy: “You never know. We talk about it all the time. I was just talking to him about it yesterday. Yes, he is (eager). We haven’t said no to him. We haven’t said yes, either.”

–On what IndyCar can do to build its popularity: “All sports are looking for momentum these days. Every sport can be doing something more to gain momentum. I think you have to have the desire to want to learn and to improve. If you do that, that’s the first step. It’s like an alcoholic, the first step is you have to admit you have a problem first.”

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.