Dixon, Chilton confident Ganassi will find success with Honda

Kanaan and Dixon. Getty Images
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Simply put, Chevrolet has dominated Honda during the aero kit era of the Verizon IndyCar Series. In the 32 races contested since aero kits were first introduced, Honda teams have only amassed eight victories, and won only twice during the 2016 season.

However, one of those victories came at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and Honda appeared to have the superior super speedway package at Indianapolis, Pocono, and Texas. With that in mind, it may not be a complete surprise that Chip Ganassi Racing rejoined Honda after racing under the Chevrolet banner since 2014.

And while Chevrolet may have held an edge in aerodynamics, Chip Ganassi driver Max Chilton indicated that Honda may have an edge with its powerplant.

“I think with the Honda, I’ve only driven it once, but the lower end, bottom-end torque is definitely a lot stronger than what I was used to last year,” he said of Honda’s IndyCar engine. “And I think that on a street course, that’s important. So, that should help us.”

Still, one cannot ignore the fact that, outside of the three big ovals, Chevrolet has had Honda covered. What’s more, strict testing rules have placed limitations on the amount of development teams can do at the track.

Outside of four series-wide open tests, teams are allowed one additional test between April 11th and September 17th. Running a rookie or an Indy Lights driver will allow for extra test days, but the testing limitations have the potential to hamstring development efforts as the Ganassi organization adjusts to the Honda platform.

As past champion and Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon detailed, this goes beyond the nuts and bolts of the engine and aero kit.

“Chevrolet was more of a turn-key operation and they offered quite a bit of support,” Dixon explained. “Honda’s a little more raw, but can be tailored quite a lot. So, I think that’s definitely a big change from what we’ve had for the last three years.”

However, Dixon also described that changing manufacturers can be a motivating factor (Dario Franchitti thought so), particularly after a down 2016 season. Most organizations would look at Chip Ganassi Racing’s 2016 season and call it a success. Dixon won twice (at Phoenix and Watkins Glen) and the organization placed three drivers in the top ten in the championship (Dixon was sixth, Tony Kanaan seventh, and Charlie Kimball ninth). However, Dixon’s sixth was his worst championship finish since 2006, when he finished fourth, and he was the only Chip Ganassi IndyCar driver to win during the season.

With that in mind, Dixon described the change in manufacturers as a chance to hit the reset button. “With such a bad season for us (in 2016), it was definitely a good year for us to sit down, look back, and understand a lot of areas where we were not as efficient, making a lot more mistakes than we should as a team. So, I think the two of those factor into a lot more focus and hopefully getting back to the basics and doing them better.”

Despite Honda’s struggles, some of its teams ran well and challenged for race wins and podiums on a consistent basis, chiefly in the hands of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Given that they both begin their third years with Honda’s aero package and engine, Dixon understands he and the Ganassi team have some catching up to do, made all the more difficult by the aforementioned testing restrictions.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve (for Chip Ganassi Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing, who also switched manufacturers), and now with how the rules are right now with the limited track testing, it makes it even more difficult,” said the four-time champion. “I think we get four off-season days, which is not much when you get six months of the year off.”

However, while there are technical differences between the packages, Dixon asserted that the baseline setups may not be all that different. “You always think you know a bit about the competition, but when reality strikes, there’s always areas where maybe you didn’t understand as well. But, there’s things we know through the years through using other manufacturers that may help the current program we’re on now. So you can’t throw anything out.”

Undoubtedly, because of the variables in play, the changeover to Honda presents a unique set of challenges to Dixon and the entire Chip Ganassi Racing team. However, they are not running from them, and Dixon is confident that engineering staff will get their heads around it. “Our engineering group and the advanced engineering group: it’s definitely a solid package. I think for them it’s probably quite exciting that they have something new and different to work on.”

And, while Dixon expects things to be difficult, he is not afraid of the challenge. “It’s going to be challenging, there’s no question about it. But, challenges are fun…hopefully!”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.