IndyCar 2016 team preview: Chip Ganassi Racing Teams

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NBC Sports takes a look through the teams competing in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. Chip Ganassi Racing Teams heads into 2016 with arguably its biggest overall program: four IndyCars, two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, four Ford GTs split two apiece between the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship and likely, a two-car Red Bull Global Rallycross program for another season. The IndyCar program looks to continue its incredible success, 20 years after its first crown in 1996.

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
Engine/aero kits: Chevrolet
Sponsors: Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (No. 8), Target (No. 9), NTT Data (No. 10), Novo Nordisk (No. 83)

2015 STATS

Races: 16
Wins: 3 (Dixon 3)
Podiums: 10 (Dixon 4, Kanaan 3, Kimball 2, Karam 1)
Pole Positions: 2 (Dixon 2)
Fastest Laps: 3 (Dixon 2, Kimball 1)
Points: 1652 (Dixon 556, Kanaan 431, Kimball 372, Karam 197, Saavedra 96)
Laps Led: 554 (Dixon 306, Kanaan 213, Kimball 21, Karam 12, Saavedra 12)
Championship Position: 1st (Dixon), 8th (Kanaan), 12th (Kimball), 20th (Karam), 25th (Saavedra)

2016 LINEUP (Engineer in parentheses)

8 Max Chilton (Brandon Fry)
9 Scott Dixon (Chris Simmons)
10 Tony Kanaan (Todd Malloy)
83 Charlie Kimball (Eric Cowdin)

2015 TEAM RECAP (Dixon, Kanaan, Kimball, Karam, Saavedra driver recaps)

If not as outright dominant on pace as Team Penske was in qualifying, where Chip Ganassi Racing Teams excelled throughout all of 2015 was in seizing the moment on race day, usually via great strategy and pit work. Only Charlie Kimball and Brad Goldberg maintained the same driver-to-engineer relationship entering the year, but Scott Dixon with Chris Simmons and Tony Kanaan with Todd Malloy immediately gelled once they were paired. Dixon got a big career monkey off his back with a Long Beach win, then praised the team for a downforce call to win Texas, and then had his whole team help propel him to a shock win and title at Sonoma after starting the day ninth on the grid, down 47 points.

Elsewhere in the team, Kanaan and Kimball had occasional high points but generally played the supporting act role. Kanaan was unlucky to not win at Iowa, and Dixon’s crew’s work netted him a critical extra point there. The fourth car – shared by Sage Karam and Sebastian Saavedra – never hit the same high points given the lack of rhythm in via the ride-share situation. To be fair, both Karam and Saavedra occasionally overachieved, but Karam far too often found himself in the crosshairs.

2016 OUTLOOK

A simpler 2016 presents itself for Ganassi’s men, albeit with two key changes. It’s Kimball who’s got a new engineer in Eric Cowdin, with Goldberg now on Ganassi’s No. 67 Ford GT in IMSA. Cowdin moves to the No. 83 car from the No. 8 car, which has neither Karam nor Saavedra but instead F1 veteran Max Chilton, who came on stronger as the 2015 Indy Lights season progressed. Chilton and Brandon Fry worked together on the ill-fated Nissan LMP1 program last year and early signs for the two of them are positive.

Still, while Kimball and Chilton are likely to play the “top spoiler” role, the best win and title chances of Ganassi rest with the two decade-plus veterans of Dixon and Kanaan. Dixon remains IndyCar’s best all-around ace, with Kanaan undoubtedly keen to return to victory lane after more than a year since his last win. A Dixon title challenge is inevitable, a Kanaan title challenge possible with the other two likely in the frame for the occasional podium finish. It’s 20 years since Ganassi’s first title in 1996; they’ll be looking for their 12th this year.