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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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”