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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.