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.


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.

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew, personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She initially was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing — but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving,” Grisham said. “It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”