Ganassi’s Switch To Chevy A Huge Surprise

(From left) Chevrolet's Jim Campbell, Tony Kanaan and Chip Ganassi during Friday's press conference in Houston. (IndyCar Photo)
(From left) Chevrolet's Jim Campbell, Tony Kanaan and Chip Ganassi during Friday's press conference in Houston. (IndyCar Photo)
(From left) Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, Tony Kanaan and Chip Ganassi during Friday’s press conference in Houston. (IndyCar Photo)

HOUSTON – That Tony Kanaan was going to be officially announced as the fourth driver at Chip Ganassi racing on Friday was not a surprise; in fact it was expected.

And then the news bombshell was dropped.

All four of Ganassi’s teams will be powered by Chevrolet beginning next season as the IZOD IndyCar Series operation leaves its position as the No. 1 Honda team.

Put that announcement along with Team Penske’s announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya was leaving Ganassi’s NASCAR team to drive for Roger Penske’s IndyCar team in 2014 as the two biggest surprises and best-kept secrets this season.

Some of the officials at Honda Performance Development were told 12 hours before the announcement that Ganassi would be leaving to join Chevrolet. And despite the departure of the highest-profiled Honda team one high-placed Honda representative said, “The sky is not falling.”

Honda is expected to pursue the four-car Andretti Autosport team and return that operation to Honda power. Team owner Michael Andretti’s operation has run Chevrolet IndyCar engines the past two years. There is some history there because it was Honda money that was essential in bringing Andretti Green Racing to what was known as the Indy Racing League in 2003 as one of its flagship teams after Honda left CART to join the IRL.

“On behalf of everyone at Honda, I’d like to thank Chip Ganassi and the entire Ganassi Racing organization for their efforts in our very successful, eight-year partnership in the Indy Racing League and IndyCar, which included four driver’s championships, three Indianapolis 500 victories and more than 40 individual race wins since 2006,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “It may be worth noting that when our previous – and also very successful – association with the Ganassi organization in Championship Auto Racing Teams competition ended after the 1999 season, Honda went on to win 15 races over the next two seasons, including both the 2000 and 2001 driver’s championship, and the 2001 Manufacturers’ Championship.

“While this partnership is coming to an end, Honda and Honda Performance Development remain committed to achieving even greater IndyCar success in the future with our continuing and new partner teams. While Honda and the Ganassi organization are going our separate ways, we remain committed to winning the 2013 Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ championships, and our collective efforts for the final three races will be entirely focused on accomplishing those objectives.”

It was a bit of a surprise when Andretti left Honda to join Chevrolet for the 2012 season so a return to Honda would make sense considering the long history of success the two enjoyed together including Tony Kanaan’s IndyCar title in 2004 and Dan Wheldon’s Indianapolis 500 victory and IndyCar title in 2005.

The Kanaan-to-Ganassi and Ganassi-to-Chevrolet announcements were the two major stories from an unusual Friday at the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Because of some issues with the temporary street course that is run on the parking lots adjacent to Reliant Stadium and the Reliant Astrodome in Houston’s Reliant Park, some major revisions were made to the schedule. The IndyCar Series was unable to practice on Friday morning because of a large bump coming out of the first turn.

Track officials put in temporary chicanes to weave around the bump and race promoter Michael Lanigan and Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting, which built the track, said more permanent changes would be made to the race course overnight.

The Firestone Fast Six Qualifying Session for Saturday’s first race of the doubleheader was postponed and will now be held from 11:45 to 12:15 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday in an abbreviated session with the starting lineup based on times instead of the knockout qualifying format. That will set the field for Race No. 1 that is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Another qualification session will be held from 9:45 to 10:15 a.m. with the second race of the doubleheader set for 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

And now, back to Ganassi.

“We were in a negotiation period there with Honda and Chevrolet asked if there was anything they could do and we listened,” Ganassi said. “It’s a good thing we listened. I think with all the wins and seven of the last nine championships these drivers – it’s great to go into a season with veteran drivers like Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and now Charlie Kimball that now how to push the buttons in this sport. It’s great to go back to the Indianapolis 500 with the defending winner on this team and the other three drivers are happy that Tony Kanaan is now a part of this.

“So many things have changed at Honda over the years that it was more that General Motors really wanted us and that nailed it for me. They really wanted us to be there and we have a working relationship with them at NASCAR so it’s not something we had to work real hard at. We’ve had a few playful moments over the years with both of them so this made more sense for the organization right now.”