IndyCar 2017 team preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

No Target, no Chevrolet. The Honda return and more questions await Ganassi. Photo: IndyCar
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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Chip Ganassi Racing is next up with its fearsome foursome, in what will be a big transition season as the team shifts back to the manufacturer that has delivered it the most glory in the last 20-plus years, Honda.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

Drivers

8-Max Chilton (Brandon Fry, Julian Robertson)
9-Scott Dixon (Chris Simmons, Mike Hull)
10-Tony Kanaan (Todd Malloy, Barry Wanser)
83-Charlie Kimball (Eric Cowdin, Scott Harner)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Arthur J. Gallagher (No. 8), TBA (No. 9), NTT Data, 7 Eleven (No. 10), Tresiba (No. 83)

Tony Kanaan remains solid. Photo: IndyCar
Tony Kanaan remains solid. Photo: IndyCar

What went right in 2016: Dixon continued winning multiple races, Kanaan’s form was probably the best its been in three seasons at Ganassi, Kimball drastically improved his qualifying which produced better results, and Chilton brought a fresh perspective to the fourth seat. 

What went wrong in 2016: There were too many mistakes and mechanical issues that blunted Dixon’s title hopes. None of the other three won races and that left Ganassi at a 10-2 win deficit to Penske with equal Chevrolet aero kits and engines. Kimball’s determination occasionally ruffled feathers, while Chilton struggled to convert respectable qualifying efforts into decent results.

How does Kimball continue his gradual growth? Photo: IndyCar
How does Kimball continue his gradual growth? Photo: IndyCar

What’s changed for 2017: The biggest and most obvious change is the swap to Honda aero kits and engines, and there’s no Target on Dixon’s car. Some crew swapping occurs throughout the four cars as well, but for only the second time since Ganassi expanded to four cars in 2011, the team has the same four drivers returning for another season (2011 to 2012).

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Develop and grow with the Honda package, and hopefully get it sorted sooner rather than later. As is a common refrain, Dixon’s title hopes would be helped by a faster start, and the other three members of the team will look for further podiums and wins. Dixon and perhaps Kanaan would keep them in title contention; success at the double points Indianapolis 500 with a better package will help that cause.

Max Chilton needs to improve in 2017. Photo: IndyCar
Max Chilton needs to improve in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: A motivated Scott Dixon will remain in title contention down to the final race but come up short of his fifth title, despite his tendency of winning titles in odd years of late (2013, 2015). The Honda package may be better but will not be enough to overcome the fleet of Penske drivers, and their Chevrolets, this season. Tony Kanaan will end his three-year winless drought with his second Indianapolis 500 victory, because the combination of TK, engineer Todd Malloy and the Honda super speedway aero kit and power unit is simply deadly on paper. Much as I like Kimball, I worry he’ll regress a bit and fall out of the top-10 in points this season, while Chilton will score his first top-five finish this year but still struggle to break into the top-15 in points.

Kyle Lavigne: The success of Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017 will come down to how quickly they get their hands around Honda’s aero package, but they should get to speed relatively quickly. One area where they should improve is the super speedway package, chiefly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2016, only Tony Kanaan showed enough speed to challenge for victory. Expect that to change in 2017.

Whether or not a drive from the Ganassi camp will challenge for the championship is a different story and will depend on the team’s ability to improve Honda’s road/street course package. This will likely happen, given the might of the Chip Ganassi organization, but it might too big of an ask for one or multiple drivers from this stable to enter the Sonoma finale within reach of the championship. But, history tells us to never bet against people like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton should be in the mix, albeit on a less consistent basis.

Luke Smith: After a tough 2016 that yielded only two victories and no drivers breaking into the top five in the points, Chip Ganassi Racing needs a big year. The switch to Honda is an interesting one, and anything less than being the top Honda team would be a failure. There will naturally be an adjustment period though.

Scott Dixon remains an ever-potent force, but I don’t see a fifth title coming his way this year, although he will make the top five in points and take a handful of wins. Kanaan should break his win drought, and I’ll even tip Charlie Kimball to return to winner’s circle this year, perhaps late in the season. As for Max Chilton? Let’s see what season two brings. But I’d be surprised if he isn’t the lowest-ranking Ganassi driver in the end-of-year standings once again.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
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