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Chip Ganassi praises Target’s legacy; confident in finding replacement

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Over the weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Chip Ganassi and driver Scott Dixon took the opportunity to reflect on the Target relationship with Ganassi’s race team, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

Ganassi expanded on earlier comments he made when the news dropped that Target would not be renewing its relationship with the IndyCar portion of the program while also expressing confidence that he’ll be able to find a new primary partner in relatively short order for the No. 9 car.

“Obviously I’ve developed some long standing lifelong relationships,” Ganassi told assembled reporters at Mid-Ohio.

“They were so much more than a sponsor. You’ve seen that over the years.

“Arguably, my team’s development is squarely on their shoulders, and maybe my own development to some extent. Like I said, my takeaway is that they’re the greatest sponsor ever.

“It doesn’t say anything about IndyCar. The sport. The TV ratings. It’s a business decision Target made. I don’t think there’s any secret message or ulterior motive, hidden agenda. It’s not a referendum. There’s no sub story here. The’ve been in 27 years and they want to do something else.”

So what would Ganassi look for in a replacement?

“It’d be pretty easy to look at the model we had and go with that,” he said. “Obviously having that long of a relationship would bode well for someone who wants to get involved with the sport. You’d think, ‘They were with them such a long time, they must be OK.'”

Asked whether Ganassi and his commercial team are the ones “doing the knocking on doors” or “being knocked on themselves,” Ganassi responded, “a little bit of both.”

Ganassi also said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some of the affiliated suppliers from Target – without tipping his hand as to who – continue into 2017.

“I think it’s safe to say you’ll see a couple of those around,” he said.

In a lot of ways, the Target/Ganassi relationship helped the sport of IndyCar racing as a whole when the two began flourishing in the 1990s.

There were some rocky early years but Target stuck by and starting with the first win in 1994, then the first run of domination starting in 1996, things came good.

“They did as much for the sport as for the team,” Ganassi said. “I think we were lucky to have those at a time when CART at time was on an upswing. And they were squarely part of it. They generate a lot of buzz. People still talk about those. Racing the motorhomes. Or going through the stores with shopping carts. The radio control cars. There was a lot of fun with those.

“The other thing you take away from those is look at all the great moments, and look at all the great things they were involved with being a part of the team. There was Zanardi on ‘The Pass’ at Laguna, Jimmy winning the first championship on the same day and everything that’s happened since then.

“You guys have been around a long time. They helped me. Robin (Miller), you remember this… there was Roger (Penske) and Carl Haas and no one else got in that door. You had to go create your own door. Target did that for us.”

Ganassi, who told NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy he’d estimate there were “30 or 40” special liveries for other suppliers, said the decision to bring back the famous Target lightning bolt on Dixon’s No. 9 Chevrolet was paying tribute to when it first came on the car in the mid-1990s.

“That was one of my favorites,” Ganassi said. “I don’t know if it was the bolt itself – we just needed something to jazz the car up in those days. That’s how the whole thing started.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.