IndyCar

IndyCar: Chip Ganassi Racing 2018 Review

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Editor’s note: For nearly the last two weeks, MotorSportsTalk has reviewed how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also took a look ahead to 2019.

The teams we featured included Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser SullivanDale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Schmidt Peterson MotorsportsTeam Penske and Andretti Autosport.

We conclude the series today with 2018 IndyCar championship-winning Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chip Ganassi Racing 2018 Season Review

Chip Ganassi Racing had an outstanding year. Not only did Scott Dixon earn his fifth career IndyCar championship – making him only the second driver ever (and the first in 51 years) to win five titles – but Chip Ganassi also claimed his 12th championship as an IndyCar team owner.

The organization expects very few changes during the off-season, with the exception of a driver change in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Ed Jones is out after one season and replacing him for 2019 will be Swedish native and former Formula E driver Felix Rosenqvist.

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SCOTT DIXON

Team name: No. 9 PNC Bank/NTT Data Honda

Years in IndyCar: 18 seasons (2 in CART, 16 in IndyCar)

Career wins and podium finishes: 44 (1 CART, 43 IndyCar) and 105 (3 CART, 102 IndyCar)

Best career single season finish: First place (all IndyCar in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018)

2018 final standing: 1st (IndyCar Series champion)

2018 final stats: 3 wins, 9 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Belle Isle I, Texas, Toronto)

SEASON WRAPUP: Dixon cemented his name and reputation as the best IndyCar driver of at least the last two decades with his fifth career IndyCar championship in 2018. He never panicked or got flustered late in the season when Alexander Rossi, Will Power and 2017 season champ Josef Newgarden were chasing him. Dixon lived up to his nickname of “The Iceman” to the core. He simply went out and did his job, supported by one of the most underrated support teams on and off pit-road in the sport.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: At the age of 38, and with championships in three of the last six seasons (as well as third-place finishes in two of the other three seasons), Dixon just keeps getting better and better. He’s definitely in the prime of his career and is a strong contender to win another one, two or maybe even three more championships before he eventually retires. Only A.J. Foyt has more titles – seven. But Foyt has 67 career wins to 44 by Dixon.

QUOTE (following the season-ending and championship-clinching race at Sonoma): I can’t thank everybody enough – the team, my teammate (Ed Jones), everybody involved. This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit. … Rossi did a hell of a job, he’s been pushing so hard this year. He’s a huge talent and one that’s going to win many championships throughout his career. I’m just stoked for everybody. And Chip, this is mega, man. Their 12th (championship). … Man, this is so awesome! I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. You always feel these situations so much that it’s never going to happen. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool.”

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ED JONES

Team name: No. 10 NTT Data Honda

Years in IndyCar: 2

Career wins and podium finishes: 0 and 3

Best career single season finish: 13th (2018)

2018 final standing: 13th

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 2 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 3rd (Belle Isle II)

SEASON WRAPUP: The 2016 Indy Lights champion and native of Dubai, Arab Emirates, drove for his second team in as many years (Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and CGR in 2017). He had some strong runs, including Long Beach and Belle Isle I (finished 3rd in both races). His performance fell back between Iowa and Pocono, but he rallied for top-10 finishes in two of the last three races (8th at Gateway and 10th in the season finale at Sonoma). Overall, he showed signs of progress and improved from his 14th place season finish (with just one podium) in 2017 with DCR.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Jones has been replaced in the No. 10 CGR ride for next season by Swedish native and former Formula E driver Felix Rosenqvist. Jones remains a free agent as of this writing. There are only a few seats still open for the 2019 IndyCar season, but Jones showed enough in 2018 that he should get a chance to improve even more in 2019. There is a rumor that at least one team is very interested in him, but no deal has been consummated as yet.

QUOTE (following the season finale at Sonoma): “It’s been a difficult year on the whole. We’ve had some very good runs but we’ve also been extremely unlucky, with several things that didn’t go our way and six races where we hemorrhaged points due to reasons ranging from punctures to mechanical issues and a couple of crashes – one of them while I was running second close to the end. Without that, I’m fairly confident we would have finished inside the top eight in the drivers’ table, and when you consider that six of the top seven overall are former champions, that would have been a pretty decent outcome. On the positive side, I’ve learned so much from working alongside both Scott and Dario (driving coach and 4-time IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti) and the opportunity to draw upon their wealth of combined experience – and I’m a stronger driver for that.”

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.