2018 in Review: Chip Ganassi Racing

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Open-Wheels.com continues its 2018 in Review series with Chip Ganassi Racing. Some driver and team shuffling before the season brought the team back to its performance expectations.

An Underwhelming Start

Chip Ganassi Racing headed to the 2018 opener in St. Petersburg with a much different look than the previous year. The team was cut back from four cars to two, as Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton moved on to Carlin Racing.

Scott Dixon returned but this time with a new sponsor in PNC Bank. Joining Dixon would be 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Ed Jones. After an impressive rookie campaign, Jones moved over from Dale Coyne Racing after Tony Kanaan left for A.J. Foyt Racing.

In the 110-lap race, both Dixon and Jones made impressive charges through the field. Dixon doing so from 9th to 6th after two mid-race penalties. Meanwhile, Jones worked his way up from 17th to 8th in his Ganassi debut.

The first 2018 oval race followed a three-week break. The 250-lap event at ISM Raceway would provide differing outcomes for Dixon and Jones. Dixon, the 2016 race winner, used strong pit stops to race from 17th to 4th by night’s end. Jones started 11th and got to 2nd before crashing on Lap 229, ending his race in 20th.

For the following weekend on the street course in Long Beach, the team’s hard luck continued. This time, Dixon would be the snakebit driver. After starting fourth and running in the Top Five much of the day, the four-time champion served a drive-through penalty on Lap 68 for pitting under yellow. He would finish 11th, his worst effort so far in 2018.

Jones equaled his career-best finish with a third at Long Beach in April (Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

Jones, on the other hand, showed another flash of promise, going from 13th to 3rd in the 85-lap race. The effort tied his career-best finish (2017 Indianapolis 500) and gave him his first Top Five with his new team.

Looking for an elusive win at the track, Dixon turned to Barber Motorsports Park. It was not to be, however.

Dixon started and finished sixth in the 82-lap event. Jones’ day ended after 64 laps due to an engine misfire, relegating him to 20th after starting 12th.

May began with more qualifying struggles. Neither driver cracked the Fast 12 in qualifying for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. For the first time, Jones out-qualified Dixon (15th to 18th). Once the 85-lap race began, their fortunes reversed.

Dixon earned his first podium of 2018, again using pit stops to find his way to 2nd. Jones dropped from 15th to 22nd, the first car one lap down.

The discrepancy in results between the two Honda-powered entries continued on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval two weeks later. After qualifying 28th for the 102nd Indianapolis 500, Jones crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 58 and finished 31st.

Dixon drove a smart race and finished third after starting the 200-lap event in ninth.

Making History

Six days after Indianapolis, the calendar would call for a doubleheader on the Belle Isle street course in Detroit. After starting second, Dixon led 39 of the final 48 laps en route to his first win of the season. Jones, who started 11th, gave a consistent run to end the day 6th.

Jones and Dixon celebrate after the second Dual in Detroit (James Black/INDYCAR)

A day later, both drivers continued their strong runs. Jones would start a season-best 4th and earned another third-place finish.

Following his win on Saturday, Dixon slotted in fourth after starting fifth. For the first time in 2018, both drivers not only finished but started in the Top Five.

As was the case throughout most of, Dixon again would be the leader in terms of Ganassi’s performance at Texas a week later.

Starting 7th, Dixon took the lead on Lap 130 (a lap after Jones led). He never looked back, leading the rest of the way to win his second race of 2018. The win also put Dixon ahead of Michael Andretti with 43 career wins. Best of all, he took the points lead for the first time in 2018.

A disappointing qualifying (8th and 12th) for the duo would not halt their hot streak. Dixon climbed to third and Jones moved up to 9th by the end of the 55-lap Kohler Grand Prix.

Dixon took the points lead following a historic victory at Texas on June 9 (Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Keeping Things Steady 

The team’s successful run in June did not translate to July early on. After starting sixth and eighth at Iowa, Dixon and Jones struggled to finish 12th and 13th (four and five laps down respectively.

A week later would see the final street course of 2018, Exhibition Place in Toronto. After starting second, Dixon on Lap 33 and led all but four of the remaining laps as he notched his. third win of the season.

After struggling in qualifying, Jones marched from 21st to finish 12th in his second race at the track.

For the third straight road course, neither driver made the Fast Six at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weeks later.

Powered by veteran savvy from both he and his crew, Dixon once again made the best of things, finishing 5th after starting 9th. Jones dropped from 11th to 15th in the 90-lap race.

More qualifying struggles from the team nearly jeopardized Dixon’s championship lead three weeks later. Despite Alexander Rossi’s dominant win at Pocono, a third-place finish from Dixon kept his lead at 26 points with three races remaining. Jones would start and finish 12th, three laps off the pace.

Wrapping Up Another Title

Dixon took advantage of a qualifying session canceled by rain and started first via entrant points the following Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park.

After leading 145 laps, Dixon crossed the finish line in third behind Rossi and race winner Will Power, while seeing his advantage over the former drop to 26 points. Jones gave another solid performance and finished 8th after starting 10th.

The resiliency of the points leader would once again be tested at Portland a week later. When a five-car melee broke out in Turn 2 on the opening lap, Jones’ day ended with a 24th-place showing after starting eighth. Although Dixon was involved in the carnage, he recovered.

In perhaps one of the most impressive drives of 2018, the points leader fought his way up to fifth and extended his points lead back to 29 as Rossi finished eighth.

Two weeks later marked the end of the season. To clinch his fifth title, Dixon needed to finish second. With Rossi bumping into his teammate Marco Andretti on the first lap, Dixon’s title was all but locked up.

After starting and finishing second to Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dixon earned his fifth title.   He joins A.J. Foyt (7) as the only drivers with five or more IndyCar titles. Jones wrapped up his sophomore campaign with another Top 10 finish (10th) after starting 14th, wrapping up his second IndyCar season with a 14th-place points finish.

Looking Ahead

Less than two weeks after the season ended, the team announced a change for 2019. Jones would not return to the No. 10 car. Felix Rosenqvist will move over from Formula E to join Dixon on the team.

With Dixon proving to be as strong as ever and Rosenqvist’s potential, Chip Ganassi Racing is primed for a successful 2019 campaign.

Header Image by Chris Owens/INDYCAR

Spencer Neff

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