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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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”