AVONDALE, Ariz. – Two, four, six, eight… the qualifying for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix was fairly great.
Tony Kanaan took the No. 10 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to second on the grid with a two-lap average of 191.511 mph to led the Ganassi quartet, and his three teammates slotted in fourth, sixth and eighth behind them.
While you’d expect Kanaan and Scott Dixon to do well in qualifying – the two are two of the four drivers who’ve raced at PIR previously – seeing Charlie Kimball in fourth and Max Chilton in eighth were also welcome surprises.
Both set career-best starting positions within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Kimball had three top-five starts in 2013, but none since.
Kimball, in the No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, equals a career best also set at the 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana while Chilton, in his first IndyCar oval start in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has his best start in two races.
“I’m pretty happy. It looks like the Team Chevy guys have a solid handle on things,” Kimball said post-qualifying.
“Everyone went away and worked on it. It’s nice to see all the cars up front. Pretty solid. We worked on a couple qualifying sims in practice, but with yellows and incidents it was broken up.
“We’ll be in solid shape for tomorrow night. If the track races like it tested, (track position) will be critical. Passing is at a bit of a premium, will have to make it happen in qualifying and then run consistently, in and out laps. So, the obvious things!”
Chilton was also relatively happy with his maiden IndyCar oval qualifying effort.
“It feels smoother and I’m more comfortable. Naturally the second time back at a track, you’re more comfortable,” Chilton told NBC Sports.
“I felt that the first lap out of the box this morning. That’s not pole, but it’ll be decent.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.