Chip Ganassi Racing duo prepares for ‘big challenge' at Texas


Chip Ganassi knows a thing or two – or seven – about victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

The IndyCar team owner is used to seeing his cars pull into that winner’s circle, where flames engulf the backdrop, confetti swirls like a snow globe and the driver is given a customary cowboy hat.

“There's no other race where they celebrate it like they do in Texas,” six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon said. “With the whole ceremony, the fire and the flames and everybody gets a cowboy hat. So it's one that I think if you ask any of the drivers, it's one place that we all love to try and get to victory lane.”

Twenty-eight drivers will compete in the PPG 375 (Sunday, April 2, on NBC) in pursuit of that coveted win. But to earn that reward in victory lane, drivers know it will take a total team effort.

Dixon, who has competed for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 9 car since 2003, has won five times at Texas – an IndyCar record. The 42-year-old New Zealander expects his PNC Bank Honda to be quick again this weekend as he hopes to match his victories from 2008, 2015, 2018, 2020 and 2021.

“Through the different tracks that we've had at Texas, we've always had a great car,” Dixon explained. “We've done a great job with that track and that's a track that I've really enjoyed even through the changes. So it's high speed, it’s a pretty big risk vs. reward at Texas a lot of the time. And I think it always shows in race as well. … But I think this year we're going to have four very strong Chip Ganassi race cars.”

When Dixon talks about the “different tracks” at Texas, he’s referring to the repave and reconfiguration that the facility underwent back in 2017. The track retained a similar size (1.5 miles) and shape (quad-oval), but the banking in the corners was changed to create two unique challenges.

Marcus Ericsson, driving the No. 8 for Chip Ganassi Racing, heads to the Lone Star State with more momentum than anyone. The 32-year-old former Formula One driver won his first oval race at the Indianapolis 500 last May after scoring a podium finish at Texas a few weeks earlier. He won the 2023 season-opening race on the Streets of St. Petersburg as he looks to start this season with consecutive victories.

“For me, the biggest challenge (at Texas) is the differences between the two ends of the track,” Ericsson said. “You have (turns) three and four, which is super banked and pretty flat out, whereas (turns) one and two are completely different banking and quite tricky to be flat (out). And especially in the race with the traffic, you're lifting quite a lot through there. And that is the challenge is to get a car that you’re comfortable with on both ends of the track.”

Finding that comfort level is crucial for a driver who didn’t turn a single lap on an oval track until 2019. Ericsson competed in Formula One from 2014 to 2018, making 97 starts in the series before moving to IndyCar.

Now driving the Huski Chocolate Honda, he’s hitting his stride, scoring four wins in his last 28 starts after starting his IndyCar career with 36 winless races.

“Last year was a very strong year for us and for me on the ovals,” Ericsson said. “Coming from European racing and not driving on any ovals before coming over here to the IndyCar Series, it's been a quite steep learning curve.

“But last year was definitely a breakthrough with that 500 win. And then also the podium at Texas that we had last year was also a big boost for me. So with all that (confidence) with me going into Texas this year, we're hoping we can be right up there and fighting for the win on Sunday.”

Dixon, who also comes from a road course background, believes the speed on ovals is what makes it such a challenge.

“You have to have confidence on ovals, you’re going extremely fast,” Dixon said. “Some of these tracks we’re almost doing 250 miles an hour. Texas will be one of the faster ones, too – we’re going probably 225-230 miles an hour. And you're on the edge constantly. There's no time for (you) to really let up.”

While Texas is a critical race on the schedule, drivers are quick to point out that it takes on extra importance for one big reason: it’s the only oval race before the Indy 500.

After the PPG 375 at Texas, there are still three more races until the Brickyard. But all of those races are road courses, where drivers are forced to turn left and right. The different styles of racing between road courses and ovals means that drivers can’t learn as much about their cars at one track type to use at the other.

Even though Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are vastly different – in terms of shape, size and banking – it’s still a crucial learning experience.

“The tracks are very different,” Dixon explained. “I think for us, though, whenever you are on track, you're constantly learning. We have such a little amount of testing these days, I think we get maybe four days. When I first started, it was maybe 50 or 60 test days. So any time you're on track, it's going to help. I think also if it's an oval, especially prep, Texas has always been a good lead up to Indianapolis.”

After the opening race at St. Petersburg on March 5, IndyCar took three weekends off before race two at Texas on Sunday. But from Texas through the season finale in September, the longest break without a race is just one week.

At this point, there’s little margin for error. If you fall behind early, things could quickly escalate.

“It's the time to really chase after the championship, and you can either get left behind or you can be right at the front and trying to make the most of it,” Dixon said. “So, I hope that we have a great race here at Texas, and that's going to kick off that streak, especially coming to the month of May and the Indianapolis 500.”

Ericsson echoed his teammate’s thoughts, emphasizing how excited he is for the races to come.

“It's going to be a very busy time here the next few months, so I'm super excited about that,” Ericsson said. “All winter it’s what you dream about, going back into the racing season and racing every other weekend or every weekend.”

The PPG 375 is set for Sunday, April 2, at 9 a.m. PT from Fort Worth, airing live on NBC and streaming on Peacock.

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