Friday Overheard at Phoenix (2nd Update)

UPDATE

A change in approach has helped the Ganassi Ford GT program to take a step forward
A change in approach has helped the Ganassi Ford GT program to take a step forward

After IndyCar qualifying I bumped into Chip Ganassi Racing Managing Director Mike Hull. I asked Hull a few questions about the different racing series CGRT is competing in this season.

To start, although the team has fielded five entries in the Indianapolis 500 previously, Hull ruled out that possibility this year saying the team is simply too busy to take on the project. One of the reasons for that is the new Ford GT program the team is running in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship.

You might remember, the team struggled in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona before an improved effort at Sebring. When asked the about the difference, Hull noted the fact the team has long run prototype cars, and they may have initially approached the program too much like a prototype car. Whereas prototype racing rewards more aggression in driving and car setup, Hull noted that a different tact was a more prudent approach for the GT program.

This change in mindset, Hull believes has allowed the team to accelerate its learning curve with the Ford GT. And he sounded confident from both Sebring and a recent test at VIR the strides forward will continue.

Also, in Red Bull Global Rallycross, the team plans to once again run Brian Deegan and Steve Arpin in 2016.

Graham Rahal and the Honda teams are struggling to keep pace with Chevy at Phoenix
Graham Rahal and the Honda teams are struggling to keep pace with Chevy at Phoenix

As for the IndyCar team, Hull and the Ganassi squad are currently on the preferred side of the paddock as part of the Chevrolet camp. Of course earlier today, the Bowtie Brigade swept the top-10 qualifying positions for tomorrow's Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. I checked with a few Honda team members to see where the deficit might be.

"It's grip," said one Honda team manager rather demonstrably. Believing that the Honda engine is fine on horsepower relative to the Chevys, this same individual wondered aloud "what the hell have they been doing all offseason?" when speaking of Honda's poor grip levels and perceived lack of improvement in the aero kits. "Heck, all the Chevys were faster on their warmup laps than us."

The last statement I can't confirm and one Chevy (Sebastien Bourdais) will start behind 4 Hondas. But suffice to say, there are some frustrated Honda teams. Is there any reason for optimism?

Well, you might remember last year at Iowa, Chevy teams swept the top-7 qualifying spots before Ryan Hunter-Reay stormed through the field to capture the win in a Honda. With this in mind, I asked another Honda team member if there was any hope his team might be able to close some of the gap in tonight's practice session, when the teams will run in race trim.

"Well, there's always hope," was his rather uninspiring answer.

The long and short of it is there's lots of frustration in the Honda camp. And my investigations didn't unearth too much in the way of optimism.

At the very least, this Honda team will be running tonight. Of course, the cars of James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato crashed in practice earlier, and missed qualifying. Both teams changed engines after the crash.

A member of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew told me that he expects Hinchcliffe to run in this evening's practice. I was unable to get a confirmation that Sato would run. Ditto for Carlos Munoz who crashed in qualifying. I was unable to confirm whether Munoz had to switch engines.

Suffice to say, it was quite busy for all three of those teams when I walked through the paddock a few minutes ago.

That is all for now.

Brian Carroccio reporting from Phoenix International Raceway

04/01/16 We're currently under red flag here at PIR as the clean up from Takuma Sato's accident continues. So, we'll use this opportunity to catch up on a few notes.

I talked with a few of the Indy Lights drivers prior to the opening practice session, and asked whether they were "flat" around PIR. One driver who did not place in the top-10 during the opening practice said "that's the hope". Conversely, two drivers who placed in the top-five said that for the race they would definitely be flat, whereas qualifying they may not.

A lot is being made of the comparison between IndyCar and NASCAR here at Phoenix International Raceway. And we know that the Indy cars will be running 45-48 mph faster per lap than the stock cars. If you work out the math that means an Indy car would lap a stock car about every four laps.

I bumped into 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion Spencer Pigot. Pigot ran the opener at St. Pete finishing 14th and is scheduled to run the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. I asked Pigot if there was the possibility of running more races.

"Same old story," was his response. They're looking for sponsorship and seeing about possibly running races after the 500, but as of now, the Orlando native has nothing past the 500.

Interestingly, the original plan for Phoenix International Raceway was to build a road course similar to Riverside and some of the classic Grand Prix circuits. I have the story for how it became an oval instead and will share it with you a little later.

James Hinchcliffe just crashed in turn 1 similar to Sato. We are again under a red flag. I will have more later.

Brian C. reporting from Phoenix International Raceway.

04/01/16 Sunny skies, slight breeze, temperatures in the low 60s and rising, blah, blah, blah, you get the drift; another splendid day ahead of us here at Phoenix International Raceway.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will be on track in less than an hour at 9 a.m. for their first practice session, with the Verizon IndyCar Series following at 10 a.m. for a 75-minute session. That will be the only practice prior to the qualifying at 2 p.m.

There is a lunchtime press conference planned at Andretti Autosport hospitality this afternoon. It is expected that Townsend Bell will be announced as the team's fifth entry in this year's 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Speaking of the 500, last night at dinner, I heard that Buddy Lazier and Lazier Partners Racing have applied for a Chevrolet engine lease for this year's race. The 1996 winner has expressed his intention to run after failing to qualify last year. And while the team has yet to make it official, go ahead and count Lazier as in for this year's 500.

Also, in the works for an Indy 500 deal could be Oriol Servia in a second Dreyer & Reinbold Chevy. DRR is already running Sage Karam, and you may remember that three weeks ago in St. Pete when Servia filled in for Will Power, his race seat was transported to Florida from the DRR Indy shop.

Last, in terms of Indy 500 news, hear that if the Grace Autosport deal to run Katherine Legge comes to fruition (it sounds better than 50/50 but by no means certain) it will be in conjunction with a current Honda team. I know the team but was told to not mention it publicly.

That is all for now. I'm off to breakfast and will have more later this morning.

Brian C. reporting from Phoenix International Raceway

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