His cars are always considered among the contenders in the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, but Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Chip Ganassi hasn’t celebrated in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2012.
Dario Franchitti’s third “500” win that year was also the third in five years for Chip Ganassi Racing. Ganassi has been a part of five Indy 500 triumphs, including his partnership with Patrick Racing. He’s the only owner in motorsports to have won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Rolex 24 at Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Given his team’s unprecedented accomplishments, not winning at IMS for five years qualifies as a drought. The team has consolidated its efforts for this Verizon IndyCar Series season, downsizing from four cars to two, the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driven by Scott Dixon and the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driven by Ed Jones.
Dixon, a four-time series champion, won the “500” in 2008 and has started from the pole three times, including last year. Jones enjoyed the best race of his rookie season with a third-place finish at Indy last year for Dale Coyne Racing.
“The reason (the drought is) a fair assessment is drivers of Scott Dixon’s caliber win big events,” team managing director Mike Hull said during this week’s open test at Indianapolis. “He’s been close so many times. You go into a state of depression with a driver like Scott Dixon if you don’t win the race because you know what a great opportunity it is and you want to give him every opportunity to win this race.”
Dixon was taken out of last year’s race in a crash with Jay Howard’s lapped car. He’s finished in the top five in six of his 15 “500” starts.
“Yeah, it’s been a little while,” said Dixon, 37. “The style of racing has changed quite a bit. Instead of straight-out speed, we need to focus on good cars in traffic. I think we’ve always got good speed generally, but it only goes so far. The goal is always the same, to win here. I don’t think we’ve had great cars here in traffic in the recent past, but it’s something we will definitely focus on a lot more this year.
“The fast cars don’t win it. It’s become more of the unknown. There’s no breaking away anymore. You can’t break away on speed. It’s going to be more of a pack race this year.”
Last year’s race came down to a duel between eventual winner Takuma Sato of Andretti Autosport and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. Dixon would like his chances if the final laps were a shootout between him and another driver.
“If it’s the two of you, of course, for sure,” he said. “But it’s hard to know how and where this race is going to go. This one will always be a tricky one and have a lot of unknowns.”
Jones parlayed his season-long Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award into landing a ride with Ganassi.
“You learn a lot obviously, but at the same time you still approach things the same way when you get here,” Jones said. “You take things step by step and try not to rush it. You really make sure you’re confident in what you like rather than rushing things.
“You always want to win. Third was great last year, but I think I have a better chance this year and we’re just trying to make sure we do everything right to make that happen.”
Dixon is seventh in the points entering next weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, the May 12 precursor to the Indy 500. He’s finished in the top six in three of four starts.
Jones, 23, is 11th in the points with a team season-best third place at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
But the no-nonsense Jones says of last year’s “500” run, “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
That’s also what Hull says of the recent past.
“We work so hard in the present, we work so hard to stay focused in the present,” Hull said. “Some coaches call that a process. We call it the present. We’re trying to win today and we’ll try to win the Indy 500 on race day.”