Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip Ganassi Racing was not able to retain the Astor Cup in 2014 after starting slow and not winning until August. However, it was not a bad season. Scott Dixon did what he normally does, win at Mid-Ohio and finish in the top three of the championship. Tony Kanaan started slow in his first season with Ganassi but made great strides over the summer and broke through into victory lane at Fontana. Ryan Briscoe was consistent and Charlie Kimball was consistently crap in qualifying but likely he is a great passer and Kimball and Briscoe ended up tied for fifth in top tens in 2014.

2014 Chip Ganassi Racing Review:
Wins: 3 (Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Fontana).
Poles: 1 (Iowa).
Final Championship Position: 3rd (Scott Dixon), 7th (Tony Kanaan), 11th (Ryan Briscoe), 14th (Charlie Kimball).

2015 Drivers:

Scott Dixon
The Kiwi wasn't able to defend his title but put up a late charge in hopes of retaining the Astor Cup. The first two months of his season were marred by top five finishes being followed by finishes outside the top ten. His month of May ended in a turn four accident while in contention for his second Indianapolis 500 victory. Outside of Belle Isle 1 and Houston, Dixon's worst finish was seventh at Toronto 2 and that was his lone finish outside the top five in the final eight races. That Toronto 2 finish was Dixon's only top ten finish that was not in the top five. Along with his annual victory at Mid-Ohio, Dixon was able to get redemption at Sonoma after a pit lane penalty cost him in Wine Country in 2013 and he finished second in the Fontana season finale.

Number to Remember: 9. Consecutive seasons Dixon has finished in the top four of the championship.

8. Consecutive seasons Dixon has finished in the top three of the championship.

35. Career wins for Dixon. He is tied for fifth all-time with Bobby Unser.

4. Amount of wins trails Al Unser by for fourth all-time.

11. Top fives for Dixon in 2014. Most of any driver. Three more than Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya who were tied for second most.

10. Consecutive seasons with a victory for Dixon. Should he win a race in 2015, Dixon will become the fourth driver to win a race in 11 consecutive seasons joining Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Hélio Castroneves. No driver has won a race in more than 11 consecutive seasons.

Predictions/Goals: Dixon should be a championship contender barring the aero kit letting him down. There is nothing Dixon has to improve on. He will likely have 2-4 victories, approach finishing half the races in the top five and pick up a pole position or two. He will surely break the Foyt-Andretti-Unser stranglehold on the top five in all-time IndyCar victories and could even put Al Unser behind him leaving just two Andrettis in his way of Foyt.

Tony Kanaan
Kanaan was consistent through the first half of the 2014 season but unfortunately it was in the back half of the top ten as he had just one top five (a third in Belle Isle 1) through the entire first half of the season. He came on strong in the second half. After missing on pit strategy cost him a podium if not victory at Pocono, Kanaan reeled off three consecutive podiums. He dominated at Iowa, leading 247 of 300 laps but was a sitting duck as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden diced through the field after taking fresh tires before the final restart with ten to go. A first corner accident at Mid-Ohio was his only major blemish in the second half of 2014 and he ended his season with a cherry in a victory at Fontana, leading a Ganassi 1-2.

Number to Remember: 6. Tony Kanaan is six starts way from making his 300th career IndyCar start. Should everything go to plan, Kanaan's 300th start will come at the 99th Indianapolis 500, just two weeks after Hélio Castroneves makes his 300th start in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He would become the eighth driver to reach the 300 starts plateau.

407. Laps led by Kanaan in 2014.

3. Laps led by Kanaan on road courses in 2014. All three came at Sonoma.

2. Two of Kanaan's 17 career victories have come on road/street courses.

2,765: Amount of days between Kanaan's last road/street course victory (Belle Isle 9/2/2007) and St. Petersburg

Predictions/Goals: Kanaan is 40 years old and on the back nine of his career. If he wants another shot at a title he will have to improve on road and street courses. While three of his six podiums were on street courses, the Brazilian hasn't won on a road/street course race in the post-reunification era and 2007 was the last season in which he had a shot at a title entering the final race. That was also the last season in which Kanaan won multiple races in a season. Kanaan should be able to get a victory and he will end up comfortably between sixth and tenth in the championship.

Charlie Kimball
If Charlie Kimball averaged a starting position within the top ten, the Californian would have been a championship contender in 2014. Kimball found himself on the back half of the starting grid in 14 of 18 races in 2014 but scored ten top tens. Nobody passed more drivers than Kimball did in 2014 but those he could only do so much from those poor starting positions and ended up 14th in the championship.

Number to Remember: 16.411. Kimball's average starting position in 2014.

1- Kimball made it to the Fast Twelve just once out of nine opportunities. His lone appearance in round two of road course qualifying came at the final road course race at Sonoma.

15- Kimball was running at the finish in 15 of 18 races in 2014.

Predictions/Goals: Kimball has to improve in qualifying. He can bring the car home in one piece and we saw what he has the capability of doing in 2013 after scoring a victory at Mid-Ohio and finishing ninth in the championship. A victory wouldn't surprise me but with the unknown of aero kits Kimball's season should see him get a fair amount of top tens with the occasional podium as he will be on the edge of the top ten.

Sage Karam
So far only St. Petersburg has been confirmed for Sage Karam but the man who turned 20 years old just a week ago is ready for a full season. The 2013 Indy Lights champion only competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 2014 and it was a stellar performance. After starting on the inside of row elven and tapping the wall on Carb Day, Karam went to from the back to the front before falling to the back again and make one final charge to ninth, the second-best rookie behind only Kurt Busch in sixth.

Number to Remember: 17- Karam won 17 of 52 starts in his four seasons in the Road to Indy ladder system. Nine of those victories came in his 2010 U.S. F2000 championship-winning season.

5.6- Karam's average finish at St. Petersburg in five Road to Indy starts.

22 and 80. The age in years and days of Troy Ruttman when he won the 1952 Indianapolis 500 driving for J.C. Agajanian. Ruttman is still the youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history. Karam will be 20 years and 79 days old the day of the 99th Indianapolis 500.

Predictions/Goals: While only St. Petersburg has been confirmed, Karam will likely also be at Indianapolis. The goal should be to convince GE or some other corporation to fund him for the full season. On the track his goal should be to win St. Petersburg to make it difficult for GE or any other corporation to say no to sponsoring him and then win the Indianapolis 500 to make it near impossible for anyone to say no.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.