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Downsized Ganassi team still packing plenty of punch

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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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

Follow @JerryBonkowski