Ganassi completes Road America IndyCar, IMSA sweep

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Chip Ganassi Racing has managed success across most of its teams in the 2017 season, regardless of which series it competes in.

Today the team now completed a sweep of the Verizon IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races at Road America, following its win in the GT Le Mans class in Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.

Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller converted Mueller’s pole position into the No. 66 Ford GT’s second win of the season (Rolex 24 at Daytona). And after Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race here a little over a month ago, it means Ganassi has now conquered the track with both its teams this year.

They’ll have a chance to go for a three-peat later this month in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, when Justin Marks drives the No. 42 Katerra Chevrolet here. Marks won last year at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Xfinity and will race for the team there next week.

Additionally, Ford is the sixth different manufacturer in GTLM to win in as many years at Road America. Ford follows Corvette who won last year, then Porsche in 2015, Risi Ferrari in 2014, the SRT Viper in 2013 and BMW in 2012.

Hand had the opportunity to finish today’s race, with Mueller having started from pole. That left Mueller in a position of watching Hand bring the car home, unlike where Hand was at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daytona this year.

Hand reflected on the final hour, needing to hold off Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, for the victory.

“I love racing. That’s what I show up for. If people on TV and here didn’t enjoy that race, they probably don’t like racing,” Hand said.

“This team is historically good here. Dirk threw down in the Kink – we’ll call it ‘#SoFlat’ – so it was a big lap and that started it all off. Managing this race from the front is what you need to do. There were a bunch of good teams and cars. You don’t want to get caught out.

“After a few bad races, coming to the championship, this is what we needed.”

Neither the No. 3 Corvette C7.R nor No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM had a banner day – the top two cars in points finished fourth and sixth – so it gives the Ganassi No. 66 car a great points day.

The sister No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe finished third, for its fourth podium of the season – all of which have been achieved in the last six races. This also marks the team’s first double podium finish of the season, coming after a front row lockout in qualifying.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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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.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“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.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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.