27 April 2014
Ganassi among those struggling at Barber
With the exception of Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing was looking unusually off the pace in qualifying for Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon secured himself fifth place on the grid for Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, but he won't find any nearby support from team mates when the green flag comes out to start the race.
That's because all three of his Chip Ganassi Racing team mates - Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe - fell at the first hurdle, eliminated in their respective first round groups during qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a disappointing qualifying here at Barber Motorsports Park for the #83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet," admitted Kimball, who will start from 17th place in the race. "We definitely expect more out of ourselves here at Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, but we'll figure it out tonight and be ready to go racing tomorrow.
"We're going to get some great information from the #9 car with it getting into the Firestone Fast Six, which is great for the team," he added, seeing Dixon's success as the silver lining to the day's outcome. "We'll just see what direction they're going to go with the car and then work on making sure we can keep the same pace we had with the Firestone primary tires during the race tomorrow."
Briscoe also agreed that qualifying had not gone "how we had hoped that it would," which leaves him facing a 20th place start for the race.
"[We] struggled to find much grip throughout all three practice sessions and then even into qualifying," he explained. "We ran fairly consistently in the top ten throughout practice, so it's just disappointing that we didn't get past the first round of qualifying. We have some work to do tonight and we'll be ready to go."
Tony Kanaan had been struggling throughout the weekend so far, the team seemingly unable to find a set-up that worked for the veteran Brazilian star throughout qualifying. That left him well off the pace in qualifying and he'll start from the back row on Sunday.
"We've been struggling all weekend with the car," said Kanaan. "We tried something different for this session and obviously it just didn't work. It's just really too bad for the Target boys.
"It's just not a place you want to start, but I've been here before," he said of the prospect of starting at the back. "I want to make sure that everyone keeps their spirits up because there's still a long race to go and anything can happen. My teammate made it into the Firestone Fast 6, so we're going to look at his setup and probably go to that tomorrow and see what we can do."
As for Dixon himself, fifth isn't quite as good as he'd been hoping for - especially with Will Power threatening to romp away from pole, and two Andretti Autosport cars also ahead of him on the grid - but the Kiwi was staying optimistic.
"Two of our four second-place finishes here we lost out on pit strategy so I hope we're due for a win," he said. "Heat was a big factor for us today and we were able to make the right changes with dampers for qualifying. In third round of qualifying we could have done another lap looking back, but we need to work on finding more speed for the Target car."
Ganassi wasn't the only team to struggle in qualifying, with two British drivers who had shone at the last outing in Long Beach experiencing very different fortunes this week at Barber.
"We had a huge lockup with the front tyre entering turn five on my first flying lap," said Long Beach winner Mike Conway. "That flat spotted the left front tyre and the car wasn't balanced then.
"It's tough for the crew but I know they will fight hard to come back in the race. We have come from behind before and I believe we can do it again," he added, contemplating a start from 21st place immediately behind Briscoe.
His compatriot Jack Hawksworth had impressed in California on the Long Beach street course until he got caught up in a multi-car accident mid-race, but this week seemed to be struggling to get to grips with Barber's 2.38-mile, 17-turn permanent road course.
"It was a really tough day," he sighed. "We've just not been quick enough all weekend, but the Bryan Herta Autosport guys are working hard to improve our speed. Despite the tricky conditions, we'll keep our heads up and try to have a good day."
KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais also had a spot of misfortune in qualifying, when he was docked his fastest two laps in round 2 for "qualifying interference" - although in practice this only bumped him down one spot to 12th on the grid after he was unable to recapture the form from practice earlier in the day.
"Well that definitely was not what I expected," said the Frenchman. "I'm very disappointed. The problem was we developed some understeer. We will just have to get that resolved tonight and give it our best tomorrow."
As for the qualifying interference which saw him tangle with Ryan Hunter-Reay when the Andretti Autosport car was on a flying lap, Bourdais admitted: "I didn't see him and no one told me he was coming. Suddenly I looked into my mirrors and there he was. My bad."
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