Downsized Ganassi team still packing plenty of punch

Photo: IndyCar
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Since 2011, Chip Ganssi Racing has brought at least four cars to the Indianapolis 500 – they even brought five cars in 2015.

However, with incumbents Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball departing for the newly formed Carlin Racing, the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season sees Ganassi only fielding two cars for Scott Dixon and Ed Jones.

And with the team opting not to field extra entries for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, its two-car assault will be left to contend with a four-car effort from Team Penske and a six-car effort from Andretti Autosport.

Even teams like Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are bigger in numbers this year – Coyne with four entries, SPM with three (and a fourth in a partnership with Meyer Shank Racing).

Still, despite being down on size in comparison to previous years, the Ganassi effort is no less potent.

Scott Dixon was last year’s pole sitter, and with the fastest speeds turned in since 1996 – Dixon’s pole run came in at 232.164 mph.

And Ed Jones was no slouch either, qualifying 11th for Coyne and finishing third, despite suffering a damaged nose late in the race.

Still, while both impressed last year, they will look for better race results this year. Dixon led early and was running in the Top 5 before his infamous airborne crash after colliding with Jay Howard.

Jones, meanwhile, was somewhat frustrated in that he felt his No. 19 Honda was good enough to win if not for the aforementioned damage.

In short, even though it’s only two cars, Ganassi’s effort is no less stronger.

Tuesday’s practice was somewhat of a mixed bag for Dixon and Jones, however. While Dixon ranked second behind Marco Andretti, Jones was down in 27th, and 18th in the non-tow ranks.

Dixon’s non-tow lap was actually even slower, as he was 26th on the non-tow board.

However, the 2008 Indy 500 winner was not concerned.

“Not a bad day (on Tuesday),” said Dixon after Tuesday’s practice. “We worked on a number of things with the PNC Bank car. One of the most important was running in traffic out there with some other cars. We’ll get as much data as we can from those runs today, take a look at what we find and then apply it to the next steps for preparing the car for the race.”

He also explained in the post-practice press conference that a two-car effort is a little more challenging than their four-car efforts, in terms of gathering data, but also asserted that the working relationship with Jones is a positive one, even while Jones is still getting up to speed with the Ganassi team.

“It’s been good. (Ed) is super laid back and good to work with,” said Dixon. “I think on this combination (of only two cars), it’s a little more difficult. Ed is trying to get up to speed with our package and our car. They’ve tried some interesting stuff.”

Jones explained that his Tuesday struggles came as he and the team tried to find a perfect balance on his No. 10 NTT Data Honda, and that they will look to find more speed on Thursday and Friday.

“I wouldn’t say I was 100 percent happy with the NTT DATA car today. We’re continuing to focus and work on the balance of the car. That’s really the main thing. There are so many variables and things to try to make it fast, and we have quite a bit of practice time here before next week. We’ll just keep trying to improve the car and try things out to be ready for qualifying this weekend.”

Practice for the 102nd Indy 500 continues on Wednesday.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”