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Ganassi swaps engines, hires Kanaan

October 4, 2013

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Once upon a time Chip Ganassi was known for taking risks. Remember when he announced he was switching to Honda and Firestone back in 1995? Remember when he hired some wanker Italian ex-F1 driver named Zanardi?

Ganassi has never been one to let the status quo interrupt his vision for the future. Today Chip confirmed the hiring of 2013 Indianapolis 500 race winner and 2004 INDYCAR champion Tony Kanaan as driver in a estimable quartet of over-achievers. Kanaan joins good friends Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and pairs with 2013 Mid-Ohio race winner Charlie Kimball in Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy cars.

Yes, Ganassi is moving from Honda to Chevy after being with the Japanese manufacturer since 1996. Earlier in this year’s championship, Chip expressed his disappointment with the way things were going at Honda. Early in this year’s championship, the vaunted Team Target was nowhere near the front of the field, having gone “the wrong direction” in pre-season testing.

They fixed whatever chassis problems existed during a mid-year test on the Sebring road course and then Dixon went on a three-race tear, hoisting himself and the team to championship contention once again. It seemed like one of those “where did that come from” moments, but those are exactly the responses we expect from this Mike Hull-led team.

Moving his Indy car team to Chevrolet isn’t such a stretch for Ganassi, whose NASCAR squads have been part of the Bow-Tie Brigade since 2009. Hence, he has good relationships with the Chevy brass of Mark Kent and Jim Campbell. “Chip’s teams have been a dominant force in open wheel racing for a long time, and we are looking forward to working together in IndyCar,” said Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “In addition, it will be great to be partnered with Chip and his organization in both open-wheel and stock-car racing.”

“This decision makes a lot of sense for us for a number of reasons,” Ganassi explained. “We feel Chevrolet has done a great job in their return to the IndyCar Series and because of our existing relationship with them in NASCAR. There are a lot of synergies that we will be able to realize in working with the same manufacturer across the two series. We are thrilled.”
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The Ganassi team will have a bridge to Chevrolet through 2013 Indy 500 champ Kanaan, who has been driving a Chevy-powered car the past two seasons with KV Racing Technology. TK’s mount next year with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams is an NTT DATA-sponsored machine; NTT DATA came onboard with Ganassi at Indy this year and has had other sponsorship appearances since that time.

Kanaan’s move has been one of those “best-kept secrets” in the wide world of racing for the past few months. This isn’t the first time the Brazilian’s been linked with Ganassi; he intended to join the team before Franchitti ended his NASCAR stay in favor of the Indy cars, going on a championship- and Indy-winning tear that now has him as a four-time titleholder and three-time Indy 500 winner.

“I couldn’t be happier to join this organization,” Kanaan said. “They are the gold standard that all IndyCar teams measure themselves against. Chip has created a fantastic organization that judges success by just one thing – WINNING, both races and championships. I can’t wait for next year to get here. This is a very big day for me.”

One question I have about this pairing is whether Kanaan is bringing his engineer, Eric Cowdin along for the ride. These two have been together – with only a little separation – since 1996 when both joined Tasman Motorsports’ Firestone Indy Lights Championship, a title they secured in 1997.Image

The primary question, at this point in time is, with three races remaining – two this weekend at Houston’s Reliant Park – what happens to the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships? Honda and Chevrolet are tied in the former and Team Target driver Scott Dixon lies second, 49 points behind leader and Chevy driver Helio Castroneves.

I’m not sure Honda is going to let Dixon and Ganassi twist in the wind over this change; I think they want to win the titles at any cost. But with Simon Pagenaud, who recently tested the new twin-turbo Honda at Auto Club Speedway, venue for the finale, in third place, will the Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver get preferential treatment through to the end of the year?

Both Pagenaud and Dixon have chops on bumpy street circuits, the former having won the most recent race at Baltimore and the latter cleaning the clock in the double-header in Toronto. If the track gets sorted in the hot and very, very humid haze of Houston, we’ll find out who’s the prime challenger, won’t we?

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

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