irst things first: How could ridiculously
successful Chip Ganassi Racing, with two
of the best IndyCar drivers of the past
quarter-century, find itself struggling for
pace in the first half of the year?
Chip’s explanation puts the blame largely
on Honda Performance Development, but
that’s not really how more objective types
saw it. Yes, HPD’s single-turbo engines
weren’t quite on par with the Ilmor-built
twin-turbo Chevrolets at the start of the
year, particularly in terms of drivability. But
the Hondas had their strengths, too –
notably punch out of low-speed corners.
And besides, Honda-powered cars lined
up second and sixth for the opening
round of the season in St. Petersburg. It’s
just that neither of them were Ganassi
cars. Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball and
Scott Dixon started 10th, 14th and 20th.
What had in fact happened was that an
ambitious shock-and-damper program had
led the CGR team down the wrong path
in the off-season, but the issue only really
became apparent in the opening session
of the opening round, as Dixon explains.
“Pre-season testing at Sebring and
Barber was misleading,” he says. “Testing
is often that way. Even after you see the
times, you never know exactly how much
pace you have relative to the others.
“But when we didn’t have any specific
issues at St. Pete yet qualified only 20th,
we realized there was quite a big problem.
That night we switched everything back
to 2012 setups and in the race we
climbed through the field and finished fifth.
“Then it was Barber [Motorsports Park],
a smooth natural road course with flowing
corners, and that masked our two main
problems, which was how the car handled
bumps and the drivability of the Honda
engine at that time. So we qualified on
the second row and finished second there.
“The problem is, so much work is done
in simulation these days,” says Dixon. “If
Sebring or Barber is your starting point,
you work your way through a matrix of
shock and damper setups and then from
the data you get there, simulation suggests
how it’ll apply to various other circuits.
But if at some point in the process you go
With 33 Indy car
wins to his name,
Scott Dixon is now
seventh in the all-time
winners list, behind
Foyt, two Andrettis
and three Unsers.
2013 INdycaR sERIEs
This revolution was televised. Dixon tells
ABC/ESPN how he won Pocono. A week
later he’d have two more victories to
talk about, having dominated Toronto’s
double-header. That drew him within
29 points of the championship lead, but
there would be more twists to come…
off on a tangent, there’s no real-world
testing to get you back on the right path.
You don’t discover it until it’s too late.”
Let’s be clear: the Ganassi cars weren’t
always behaving badly. Franchitti took pole
at Long Beach, for example (as Dixon lost
his fastest qualifying laps with a spin that left
him at the back of the grid and ended with
an 11th-place finish). It’s just that several
teams had made leaps in the off-season, so
retracing 2012 steps wasn’t enough to put
Chip’s boys at the front on an ongoing basis.
And there was little respite on ovals,
either. The Ganassi team as a whole was
invisible during the Month of May, its cars
notably undergeared for race day conditions
at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As Dixon
observes, “Although my car was handling
fine, when you come out of Turn 4 already
on the limiter in sixth gear, it’s pretty
obvious you’re going nowhere today.”
In Iowa, Dixon scored a heat win
against one-third of the field. But in the
main event, his engine went lame, just
two weeks after gearbox failure rendered
him a DNF at Texas Motor Speedway.