Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

Another year, another Team Penske collapse, another Ganassi title. That was 2015. From day one it appeared Penske was going to dominate but no one dominated. Penske couldn't seal the deal. The door was open and Scott Dixon ripped the door off its hinges in the season finale while the Penskes couldn't keep from running into one another. Ganassi enters 2016 looking for its seventh title since reunification.

2015 Chip Ganassi Racing Review:
Wins: 3 (Long Beach, Texas, Sonoma)
Poles: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Mid-Ohio)
Final Championship Positions: 1st (Scott Dixon), 3rd (Will Power), 8th (Tony Kanaan), 12th (Charlie Kimball), 20th (Sage Karam), 25th (Sebastián Saavedra).

2016 Drivers:

Scott Dixon
The New Zealanders may have scored his fourth title but even he admits he didn't have a dominant 2015 season. After failing to score a top ten in the first two races, Dixon bounced back to win his first Grand Prix of Long Beach and that led a string five consecutive top ten finishes. A win a Texas was the highlight of a consistent summer. He put himself in a position to be in contention come the season finale and drove a phenomenal race while the rest of the championship contenders faltered.

Numbers to Remember: 
11- Consecutive seasons with a victory for Dixon. He is tied with Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Hélio Castroneves for the record. One victory in 2016 would give him the record.

4- Victories behind Michael Andretti for third all-time in IndyCar victories. He is also one victory for fourth all-time but that seems like a given.

369- Laps from 5,000 career laps led. Only five other drivers have reached that milestone (Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, Al Unser and Castroneves)

Scott Dixon will set the record for most consecutive seasons with a victory. Dixon has finished in the top three of the championship the last nine seasons. He has finished in the top four of the championship the last ten seasons. It doesn't appear that streak will be coming to an end in 2016. Expect another two-three victories this season for Dixon. If he does want a fifth championship, he is going to need to score more than four podiums.

Tony Kanaan
In his second season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Kanaan showed he was still a force but fell short on victory. While he was beat straight up at Texas and Fontana, a mechanical issue ended a promising run at Iowa and two accidents at Indianapolis and Pocono. While Kanaan surprisingly struggled on ovals, he had a very good season on road and street circuits, picking up four top fives seven top tens from ten races. Those four top fives were the most for Kanaan on road and street circuits since 2011.

Numbers to Remember: 
41- Kanaan is 41 years old.

249- Consecutive starts for Kanaan dating back to Portland 2001. He has made 310 total starts in his career.

15- Consecutive seasons with a podium.

I think this will be Kanaan's final full season in IndyCar. We will see him continue at Indianapolis for the next five years or so but I think Kanaan will struggle in 2016 and he will see the writing on the wall. He will regress on road and street circuits but you can't rely on the five ovals for bolstering a season. Kanaan will get a couple top fives but he will finish on the outside the top ten in the championship.

Charlie Kimball
In his fifth season, Kimball put up some good results but the neutral results cancelled out his impressive runs. After his best finished was 12th from the first four races, Kimball scored a fifth and a third in the two Indianapolis races. He would only score two top tens in the nine races after the Indianapolis 500 but would finish third in the season finale at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember: 
6- Career podiums. Ironically, Kimball has two on ovals, two on road courses and two on street courses.

5- Consecutive seasons with a finish outside the top twenty before the Indianapolis 500.

1- Season with double digit lead lap finishes. He had 12 in 2013. The last two seasons he has had nine lead lap finishes.

Kimball will have a typical season once again. He has never been great in qualifying and I don't see that changing. I think Kimball will score a few top fives and a handful of top tens but he will finish fourth among the four Ganassi drivers. He will be in the top fifteen of the championship.

Max Chilton
The former Marussia F1 driver will make his IndyCar debut for Chip Ganassi Racing. Chilton ran 13 of 16 Indy Lights races last year. A mechanical failure prior to the Freedom 100 kept him from making his first racing laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval while he missed the Toronto round due to commitments with Nissan at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Chilton won his first Indy Lights race at Iowa and ended the season with four podiums, three pole positions and a fastest lap in the final five races.

Numbers to Remember: 
115- Starts in GP2, GP2 Asia, Formula One and Indy Lights since he made his first GP2 start in 2010.

13- Retirements in those 115 starts.

6- Podiums in 13 Indy Lights starts.

I see Max Chilton as the favorite for Rookie of the Year. I think he will be the second best Ganassi driver in the championship. He will get at least one podium but could get more. Perhaps more importantly, Chilton will bring the car home in one piece more times than not. He will have his struggles to get up to speed but I think by Indianapolis, he will be fine and he will get at least two top tens on ovals.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.