Chip Ganassi Racing has same championship approach with three cars still in the title hunt

Ganassi IndyCar championship
Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment

Chip Ganassi Racing will enter Portland International Raceway this weekend with an NTT IndyCar Series championship outlook that is completely unprecedented and also totally familiar.

Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou remain within striking distance of points leader Will Power with two races remaining – the first time in Ganassi’s vaunted history that the organization has been this deep in the season with three title-eligible cars. Team Penske also has three title-eligible drivers (Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin) but for the second time in five years (Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud duked it out in 2017).

While winning 14 championships (including six by Dixon) over the past 32 years, Ganassi has had dynamic duos of contenders (Alex Zanardi/Jimmy Vasser, Dixon/Dan Wheldon, Dixon/Dario Franchitti) yet never a trio gunning for the crown so far into the closing stretch.

INDYCAR AT PORTLAND: Schedules, how to watch on NBC, Peacock this weekend

It naturally prompts the question: Without being able to prioritize resources or staff toward just one or two entries (and while also fielding the No. 48 Dallara-Honda of Jimmie Johnson), how does preparing three championship-caliber cars impact the workload at Ganassi’s Indianapolis shop?

“It doesn’t,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “That’s not the case for us and never has been. It gets all the way back to the very beginning for me with Chip.”

Shortly after being hired by team owner Chip Ganassi to manage competition for two cars in 1992, Hull said the team’s top-down directive of standardization over specialization was evident.

“Even if we were building test parts, we had to make sure we built two of everything for both cars,” Hull said. “Chip said not one driver is going to get anything different than the other driver. And in some cases when you’re building test parts, you only want to build one set. But that was not the case with him.

“That is followed through with everything that we’ve done here from Indianapolis whether it’s been IndyCar, sports car or anything else that we have done. We’ve always made sure if we can only have it for one car, we’re not going to do it. And Chip’s belief, and it’s right, is if every driver and every team member feels that everyone is equal, then it’s easier to be unselfish with the share. And we’re lucky because we have an assemblage of people that have grown up in that system that mentor the younger people that are working here that understand that’s how we operate. We accept that as commonplace today. We don’t question that. We don’t worry about it.”

The drivers seem unworried, too – even despite (or perhaps because of) a season marred by several weeks of contract strife.

Palou, the defending series champion and race winner at Portland, has been embroiled in a lawsuit with Ganassi over his future

But in the six races since announcing he was leaving for McLaren Racing, the Spaniard has remained competitive. And even though his remote access to Ganassi data and engineering has been restricted, Palou is confident he will have the same chance at the title as Dixon and Ericsson.

“One hundred percent,” Palou said after finishing third at Nashville (where he also had a brief postrace conversation with Ganassi). “I think there’s a lot going on, but at the end of the day, Chip would be super happy if we win the championship. He wants one of his cars to win the championship. We cannot all three win, but he wants one car to win. I don’t think I’m getting less stuff or not so much attention than others. Yeah, I think we have a fair shot for sure.”

Said Dixon: “We’re here to win. Everybody is trying to win. That’s what I’ve always loved about this team. Obviously, this is a strange situation, and it hasn’t changed for Chip. The prerace meetings are the same, and all of our cars are trying to win this championship. I know Alex is trying to win this championship as much as he can. It’s in his best interest to, as it is all of ours. Yeah, some stuff gets a bit awkward here and there, but we’re all here to win. That makes it pretty simple.”

The IndyCar rulebook also simplifies Ganassi’s quest for equality across its four cars.

Since the introduction of the DW12 Dallara a decade ago, IndyCar has used a common chassis. Five years ago, the implementation of universal aero kits made the series even more “spec” and increased standardization by further reducing suppliers. (NASCAR took a similar direction this season with the Next Gen car.)

“I think you see that in other forms of motorsports besides IndyCar, and what’s happened is the sanctioning bodies have tightened up the spec of the cars so they’re much closer together than they ever were,” Hull said. “They’re no longer specific to the team. The cars are more spec, it’s more specific to the series.

“So because of that, the more information you have, even though the information is almost finite. It helps you climb the grid together, much more effectively than it used to. So what happens with teams like Chip Ganassi Racing is they value the input from the intellectual property that the car creates, and then the unselfish interchange between the drivers and engineering group and the managers to run those cars. It goes all the way from the very first track walk to the last lap of the race.”

Though there might be benefits from running an organization in lockstep across four cars, Hull admitted keeping the team in line can be problematic because “racing people are competitive, and they’re trying to gain an advantage all the time.”

Despite the spec limits, the team still can build some aerodynamic parts for use across all four cars. Ganassi is diligent about measuring their effectiveness on track and making those results immediately transparent through internal wireless communications.

“If we think it’s the right configuration, but a driver goes out on track and says, ‘Well, that doesn’t work for me, and I’m not going to tell anybody,’ well, we don’t do it that way,” Hull said. “We make sure everybody understands we tried something, and we’ll explain why it didn’t work. It’s not filtered, and we don’t hold anything back from each other.

“What we try to do is reinforce the fact that our advantage is gained by working together and not separating ourselves.”

Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)