The ever expanding NTT IndyCar Series entry list is growing more and more in a positive direction again. This season, we will definitely see an uptick in car counts at most races, including a couple of the bigger teams growing in terms of numbers as well.
Both Chip Ganassi Racing as well as Andretti Autosport have expanded their fleets for 2020, as CGR goes from a two car to a three car outfit with the addition of Marcus Ericsson coming onboard while Andretis is going from four full time cars to five with bringing Harding/Colton Herta over to their team.
“Yeah, I think we’ve gone from two to four then back to two, adding a third this year,” five-time series champion Scott Dixon said. “The most I can see from right now is just the amount of personnel we’ve been able to bring on. We’ve kind of been pretty thin there for a while, especially in the engineering department. We’ve been trying to hire people for almost two years. Just couldn’t find the right fit.
“We added actually a lot of people this year, probably four or five on the engineering side, then the depth of the whole GT program coming over has helped as far as management and also crew people as well.
“I think personnel-wise the team is probably in the best situation I’ve seen it in the last maybe five or six years. So I think off-season development has been really good.
“Also the change of mindset. I think we kind of got stuck there a lot of times just doing the same thing and looking for different answers, which just wasn’t working in some of our weak areas. We definitely have always had a very good base.”
They’re both doing this to catch Team Penske. Ganassi initially expanding from two cars to four in 2011 hurt them for several years. Then, they scaled back to two cars again, but couldn’t seem to get the right guy in the team car to help Dixon enough. Once they did this, they were missing setups and information with the two cars compared to Penske’s three and Andretti’s four.
Team Penske has been the top dog in the NTT IndyCar Series as of late. No one has touched them in terms of the top accolades. Since the new car was unveiled for the start of the 2018 season, no one outside of the Penske walls have won anything at Indy. Will Power won the pole for the IndyCar Grand Prix in 2018 and went on to win the race too. He’d win the Indy 500 two weeks later. Last year, Simon Pagenaud won the IndyCar Grand Prix, the Indy 500 pole and the Indy 500 itself.
Then, factor in Josef Newgarden’s 2019 title and you get a Penske domination.
Penske, has won 15 of the 34 races run since 2018. They’ve also won 38 of the 82 times since 2015. The problem is, Chip Ganassi Racing used to be their main rivals. Now, it appears that Andretti Autosport has supplanted themselves over Ganassi.
There’s no doubt about it, the “Big 3” of the NTT IndyCar Series is still Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport. Combined, the trio has won 27 of the last 34 (79%) races run in Indy Car competition. Furthermore, if you go back to 2015, they’ve won 64 times in 84 tries (76%).
But, Penske has pulled away and distanced themselves from Andretti and Ganassi. They’ve won three of the last four series championships to go along with the last two Indy 500’s.
Andretti, is now distancing themselves from Ganassi too. Andretti has won seven times over the last two seasons, two more than Ganassi’s five. Andretti and Ganassi have each won 13 times since 2015 too.
Ganassi, hasn’t won an Indy 500 since Dario Franchitti’s 2012 triumph. Where they have Andretti though is out of the last six years, Penske has four titles and Ganassi the other two.
Where Ganassi has slipped was, they expanded to that four car team nine years ago. That didn’t work like they had hoped. Dixon remained consistent but it took away from the 10 car. Franchitti’s stats started slipping then he was severely injured in a 2013 crash which forced him to retire. Tony Kanaan stepped in for 2014 and he struggled. Kanaan, had one win in four seasons as Dixon’s teammate. In 2018, Ed Jones was hired as Kanaan’s replacement. Jones, in just one season in that car, had just two top five finishes and only eight top 10’s.
From 2014 through 2018, the 10 car had one win, 17 top five finishes and 49 top 10’s. Dixon meanwhile, had 11 wins, 46 top five finishes and 66 top 10’s.
Last year, rookie Felix Rosenqvist was hired to replace Jones. It would mark the third straight year that Dixon had a new teammate in that 10 car. Rosenqvist, was the breath of fresh air that CGR has needed. They need someone challenging Dixon for wins and pushing him harder.
The last time a CGR driver not named Scott Dixon had won an Indy Car race was the 2014 season finale. Dixon needed some help. He needed setup help from a second car. He needed another car to challenge the Penske’s and Andretti’s up front. It was Dixon vs. 3-4 Penske’s and 3-4 Andretti’s for wins.
He was a one man show.
Now, they are expanding to a three car team in hopes for more data and in comes former F1 driver Ericsson.
“Marcus, again, it’s difficult, the lack of testing doesn’t really get you down that road too quickly,” Dixon continued. “I think the addition of him and more cars on the team is going to be great. I think we’re looking for big things from him especially with his second year. The first year is always fairly daunting trying to get up to speed, going to a lot of circuits you haven’t been before.
“Pretty much a Team Swede now with him and Felix. It’s been a lot of fun so far and hopefully we can keep building on it.”
For Andretti, they’ve been getting closer and closer, but Alexander Rossi can’t seem to get over the hump for a title, coming close in each of the last two years.
“Yeah, hopefully that was the missing piece: keep adding cars until we get a championship,” Rossi joked. “No, I think it’s really cool to be able to bring Colton on kind of into the fold full-time I guess. He was kind of already there with the Harding Steinbrenner Andretti relationship we had last year. We have already noticed a positive difference having the engineering staff back in the office and everyone kind of under the same roof, being able to just more efficiently kind of bounce ideas off each other, just progress the whole team forward.
“Colton is a super big asset for us. He has a lot of just raw pace. He certainly was already contributing in his rookie year last year. Really excited about it.
“Obviously the partnership kind of got made with Meyer Shank racing and Jack Harvey. It’s kind of a similar deal to what we had this Colton last year where Jack will be working with us on race weekends in some aspects.
“I think in a time where, as I’ve said before, it’s so competitive, you’re looking for 10ths and hundredths of seconds, to have a variety of inputs is a positive thing.”
Rossi, noted though that while you have five full time cars under their umbrella and a sixth with their alliance with Meyer-Shank Racing, you have to be able to do something with that expanded info.
“The important thing for us at Andretti is to make sure we have an ability to get through all that information in an efficient way,” Rossi continued. “We have processes in place. We’ve been a big team for a while now. It’s not that we’re going from two cars to five cars. We’ve been four ever since I’ve been a part of the team. This is kind of just the natural progression.
“We’ve done a lot of really positive things this off-season. Hopefully it’s enough to finally break through that barrier and we can come out of the last race with a championship.”