Team Report Card: Chip Ganassi Racing
For most in the Verizon IndyCar Series, being the second-best team in the paddock is usually a thumbs-up moment.
That is not the case for an organization like Chip Ganassi Racing, however. Although its first campaign as a Honda runner has moved them to the top of the stack for the Japanese manufacturer, they still could not find a way to eclipse Team Penske, as the Captain’s men lifted the Astor Cup for the second consecutive season.
So how does Ganassi get to its ultimate goal? The make-up of the squad from 2017 has changed just like the look of the Dallara DW12 chassis. CGR has downsized its operation from four full-time runners, to only two for 2018. Gone are Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, expected to join a new team in the planning stages, reportedly being formed by Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires entrant Trevor Carlin.
Also missing in action for 2018 is Tony Kanaan, after four seasons with the club. The Brazilian was expected to pick up where Dario Franchitti left off following his retirement from the sport in 2013. Unfortunately, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion never made the impact that was forecast, earning only a single victory during his tenure.
With TK off to A.J. Foyt Racing for the new year, the No. 10 ride is filled by Sunoco Rookie of the Year Ed Jones, who enjoyed a solid first half of his IndyCar debut season with Dale Coyne Racing. While the loss of Sebastien Bourdais during the run-up to the Indy 500 showed the Dubai-based pilot might not be prepared to assert to the role as the number one member of any squad on the grid, he won’t be in that position with four-time series title winner Scott Dixon still in the fold.
The drive for a fifth crown for Dixon is the target for CGR entering 2018. While the resources and strength in numbers that Penske enjoys will not be met on paper, the determination and competitive drive of the Iceman should be in full force when the new year opens in St. Petersburg, Florida this April.
Before we continue our look ahead, let’s look back and grade the success and failures of CGR for 2017.
Scott Dixon (third on 2017 points table): The New Zealander had a great season, no questioning that. A 17-race slate and only one finish outside the top ten, that being his wild exit from this year’s Indy 500. The only problem: he did not find victory lane enough. Although five runner-up placings were better than most, a single win at Road America was not the prescription to counter the outputs of Josef Newgarden.
While a more aggressive tact is not the preferred style of the Kiwi, it may be required to make up for the lack of form needed to defeat the Penske Three in 2018.
Tony Kanaan (10th on 2017 points table): It has not been a colossal failure for the relationship between TK and Ganassi, it is just that the No. 10 team never reached its potential. Even with the presence of Penske, a seventh-place being the top showing in the final standings was not the expectation. The Brazilian was a factor at times, a runner-up effort at Texas this year being one, the biggest challenges were shown on ovals, not on road courses. This reality with the current makeup of the calendar just does not equal a fair shake at success in the long haul.
While age (42) was tagged as the critical reason for the change in driver for 2018, the pairing was unable to strike oil when it mattered. Hence, TK is off to Foyt and Ganassi has turned to Ed Jones for answers.
Max Chilton (11th on 2017 points table): The Englishman made progress in his sophomore season on the IndyCar circuit, most witnessed by a career-run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the 101st edition of the May classic, the ex-Formula One chauffeur led the most laps and appeared to be a bonafide threat to steal the victory. Even though he settled for fourth at the climax, the No. 8 squad showed potential.
Sadly, the boost from the Brickyard would not continue through the remainder of the race list. While four further top-ten placements was a plus, having six efforts of 11th or worse denied Chilton the ability to challenge for a points spot among the upper half.
With the Brit’s IndyCar future still in limbo as the Christmas holiday approaches, the scenarios for year three are unknown. If the Carlin deal is struck, the skills learned by Chilton at CGR will be put to the test from the start of race one. While the talent is there, the organization may be too new to match the numbers
earned in 2017.
Charlie Kimball (17th on 2017 points table): After placing ninth on the final list in 2016, most insiders believed Kimball was primed for a breakthrough in the new year.
Unfortunately, the diabetes advocate was rarely a challenger for big results. Other than a glimmer of hope at the Indy 500, a run that was cut off by a blown engine, mid-pack showings were as good as it got. Simply put, those numbers were well below what was expected for a squad that has the equipment CGR can give.
Kimball’s continuation in IndyCar is based mainly on the possible Carlin-Chilton entry. With Novo Nordisk reducing its funding of the American veteran for 2018, a return to Ganassi was off the table. Fortunately, the dollars in play should keep the light at the end of the tunnel on for at least another season. The only word needed now is “Go.”
2017 showed that an engine change could not dim Ganassi’s fortunes. However, a shake-up in the driver roster and the car count might. The title chances fall upon Dixon’s shoulders, which is pressure he can handle. If more wins couple another top-ten filled resume, the Astor Cup could switch entities.
Jones does not need to build Rome in one year, although a move from part-time to all-in challenger would be a good suggestion. While becoming a new IndyCar race winner would be a plus, it is not a requirement in 2018.
Of course, there is one thing that has not been mentioned yet. What if, Danica Patrick was to surface as a third pilot at Indy? Stay tuned folks.
TEAM GRADE: A-
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