GANASSI'S SURPRISING NON-SURPRISE
Rumors of the Chip Ganassi Racing team's interest in switching camps from Honda to Chevy have been circulating for more than a year, making Friday's confirmation of Ganassi-bound Tony Kanaan and the Chip's Bowtie twin-turbo V6 engines for 2014 an interesting proposition.
Chatter about the move to Chevy intensified over the past week, yet the final decision by Ganassi to part ways with Honda was kept from the manufacturer until late Thursday night. RACER confirmed Ganassi and Honda were negotiating for an extension to their two-year deal, but the 2012 Indy 500 winners learned their most successful team would be joining the likes of Team Penske and Andretti Autosport on GM's IndyCar roster at 9:30 p.m. last night.
The news also appeared to catch some of the Ganassi drivers off-guard, with the best example coming from Kanaan, who texted one member of Honda's PR this team saying how happy he was to be back in the family.
Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti took the news in a more personal manner, sharing a note of gratitude for Honda's role throughout his career.
“While I'm very excited about our new partnership with Chevrolet next year, I really want to thank all of my friends at Honda for their hard work over the last 15 years,” he wrote via Twitter. “It's been a lot of fun! Every IndyCar race and championship I've won has been with Honda power. I'm very proud of that and the friendships I've made which will continue long after I've stopped driving racing cars.”
Conjecture regarding Honda's next move – one to tip the balance back to a more equitable position – dominated the afternoon, and with many possible scenarios in play, RACER will cover that topic in a separate feature.
BETTER THAN NEW ORLEANS
What everyone expected to happened did happen in Houston. With a narrow window to erect the track in and around Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans NFL team which played at home Sunday afternoon, the start of Friday's opening IndyCar practice was delayed by 2.5 hours when track grinding was required on the front straight.
Those who recall Baltimore's first day of activity in 2011 might remember a similar delay for a similar problem – cars launching on the front straight and surface grinding being required to solve the problem. Baltimore's delay was something on the order of four hours, but as one racing veteran remarked, “It's better than the IMSA street race at New Orleans (in 1992). They didn't get the track done until Saturday…”
Just as the grinding proved insufficient at Baltimore (which led to a chicane being installed to slow the cars before running over the train tracks), a temporary tire chicane was installed in Houston to achieve the same result.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden was the first to make contact at the chicane, damaging the right side of the Strike-liveried No. 67 Honda, and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay soon followed, bending the suspension of his No. 1 DHL Chevy. Track officials plan to continue the grinding overnight, and if they are successful, the tire chicane will be removed, giving cars a longer run to the first proper chicane at Turn 2. Based on the number of spins and bypasses made in that single-line section Friday, it could make Baltimore's narrow Turn 1 look like a 10-lane highway. If carnage happens in either of this weekend's 90-lap races, Turn 2 has all the ingredients for mayhem.
Friday's planned qualifying session was moved to Saturday morning where drivers will get their first chance to run on the new front straight. With 12 minutes to set a time for both groups, teams won't have time to make gear ratio or major setup changes if they are needed.
Frequent yellow and red flags on Friday also prevented teams from doing long runs, which could make it hard for some entrants to get an exact feel for fuel consumption figures and tire consumption rates. It all adds up to Houston Round 1 having more questions than answers for teams and drivers, and as we've seen in similar situations this year where limited track time was available, the race could be anything but predictable.
With a championship on the line, Saturday's race will be one to watch.