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Double dip of testing for Ganassi lies ahead in Florida this week

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Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will have all eight of its cars split between its Verizon IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship programs testing in Florida this week, with four cars each at two typical Florida winter testing hotbeds.

Per the team, the four-car Honda-powered IndyCar program will test on Thursday at Sebring International Raceway’s short course, in a makeup test for one affected by rain in December.

Then on Friday, the four-car Ford GT Le Mans program in the WeatherTech Championship will hit the high banks of Daytona International Speedway as part of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.

CGR’s IndyCar driver roster – Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton – will all be back behind the wheel on the road course Thursday at Sebring. This will be Kimball and Chilton’s first test in an IndyCar since the end of the season at Sonoma on Sept. 18.

The test will take place one day before the start of the Roar (Jan. 6-8), as Dixon and Kanaan will head north to Daytona to take up their roles in two of the four Ford GTs.

Kimball, who made the 100th start of his IndyCar career in the 2016 season-ending event at Sonoma, took to Instagram to reveal how much he is looking forward to getting some laps in, after a busy offseason filled with a number of partner events for Novo Nordisk.

As noted above, CGR had originally planned to test last month at Sebring along with Dale Coyne Racing, but the event was rained out. Coyne will make up days at Sebring later this month.

Here’s a quick recap of 2016 for the CGR drivers:

* Four-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon was unable to defend his 2015 title, finishing sixth in 2016. Dixon had two wins, four podiums and two poles. And while his average start (6.2) was fairly consistent from previous seasons, his average finish (9.8) was his lowest since 2005 (14.4).

* Kanaan’s results have been better than his ultimate championship position the last three years, as he’s gone seventh, eighth and seventh since 2014. He looks to end a winless streak that dates to 2014 and finished on the podium twice last year.

* Kimball turns 32 on February 20. Even though he failed to win a race, finish on the podium or claim a pole, he still ended 2016 with his best IndyCar season finish ever: tied for eighth. He also had career bests for average start (10.9) and average finish (9.2).

* A rookie last season, Chilton returns for his sophomore campaign for CGR and in the IndyCar Series, looking for significant improvement over his rookie season in 2016: finished 19th, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 poles, led just two laps (of 1,903), average start (13.9), average finish (16.1), nine lead-lap finishes.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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