IndyCar notes: Ganassi gets sixth open-wheel title

  • By Mike Harris Associated Press
  • Sunday, September 7, 2008 6:58pm
  • SportsSports

JOLIET, ILL. — Chip Ganassi was able to celebrate his sixth open-wheel championship Sunday after Scott Dixon wrapped up the IndyCar Series title with a second-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway.

This latest championship for Target Chip Ganassi Racing is in addition to Dixon’s IndyCar title in 2003 and the four consecutive championships Ganassi’s team won from 1996-1999 in the now-defunct CART/Champ Car series.

“I go back in the day and I think about the other championships and the people that were involved in those championships, whether it was team members of drivers,” said Ganassi, who also fields teams in NASCAR and the Grand-Am sports car series. “Every person that’s been part of any of those championship has a little bit of sweat in this one and has a part of it.”

Jimmy Vasser, now co-owner of the KV Racing Technology team in IndyCar, gave Ganassi his first title in 1996, with Alex Zanardi winning the next two years and Juan Pablo Montoya, who now drives for Ganassi in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, taking the 1999 championship.

Dixon lost Sunday’s race to Helio Castroneves, his closest pursuer in the championship, on a photo finish, but still won the title by 17 points.

At first, it appeared Dixon had won the race, too. But Ganassi wasn’t concerned about that.

“I thought about it for a millisecond,” the owner said.

Ganassi got a little fire in his eye when he was asked to compare the successes he’s had in open-wheel and Grand-Am, where he has won two championships, with the struggles he has faced in NASCAR.

“I don’t feel like I have troubles over there like you in the media want to constantly point out,” he said. “We have a growing business over there. We’re going through any other challenges that a growing business does. This is a little more mature business over here.”

Mike Hull, team manager and the man who calls the shots in Dixon’s pit, said it was good that Ganassi was sitting on the pit stand of Dan Wheldon, Dixon’s teammate, Sunday.

“I know Chip,” Hull said. “If (he) would have been on the (No.) 9 car stand today, they probably would have had to call 911 because he wouldn’t have been able to hold his breath as long as we were able to inhale and then exhale. … It’s fun to race an IndyCar the way we did today.”

LAST LAPS: It wasn’t the way Vitor Meira planned to leave his ride at Panther Racing.

The Brazilian, who found out last week he will be replaced by Dan Wheldon next season, hit the wall after something broke in the rear of his No. 4 Dallara, ending his three-year run with the Panther team.

“We had some kind of failure on the right rear tire,” Meira said. “I could feel something going wrong the lap before, and I was getting ready to radio that we had a tire going down. … We all hate to finish this way. The car was great and we wanted to end this on a great note.

“I’ve said it before, but these guys are my friends and I’d like to thank everybody at Panther, Delphi and the National Guard for the last three years.”

Meira wasn’t the only driver to experience the pain of a mechanical failure Sunday. Also hitting the wall after similar problems were Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher and rookies E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes. Fisher was the only one who came away limping.

“I messed up my foot a little bit,” said Fisher, who ran a partial season while putting together her own team. “We’re just trying to go into the offseason trying to put together a program for next year.”

TOP ROOKIE: Andretti Green Racing’s Hideki Mutoh finished 22nd with a mechanical problem, but that was good enough to wrap up Rookie of the Year honors for 2008, if not enough to make him happy Sunday.

“Yes, it was my goal,” the youngster from Japan said glumly. “It is not nice to finish like this to win (the rookie) championship. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, not today.’

But Mutoh did acknowledge he was proud of the honor.

“I think there were so many good rookies out there, and I was able to finish ahead of them. It is very good for my race career. But I had as so very tough day today, and I’m feeling it.”

TWO-TIME CHAMP: Raphael Matos added the Firestone Indy Lights championship to his 2007 Champ Car Atlantic series title, wrapping up this year’s crown with a third-place finish Sunday in the Lights season-finale.

Driving for AFS and Andretti Green Racing this season, the 27-year-old Brazilian is unsure what is next for him.

“You know, AGR and AFS, they’ve been great to me all year long,” Matos said. “I believe it’s a win-win situation. “They gave me a great opportunity. I was able to deliver it and the championship.

“Also, you know, there’s so many opportunities with Andretti Green, not only in IndyCar but also on the sports car side. I think there’s a great future ahead of us. I’m very excited.”

SPARK PLUGS: Race winner Helio Castroneves averaged 150.648 mph in the race slowed by seven cautions for 53 of the 200 laps. … Will Power, one of the nine drivers who made the transition from Champ Car to the unified IndyCar Series this season, finished fifth, his best finish on an oval. … Milka Duno, one of three women in the 28-car field, led five laps, the first time she has been out front in an IndyCar race. She finished the season with more laps led than Danica Patrick, who led only four laps all season. But Patrick, who finished 10th Sunday, wound up sixth in the points, while Duno was 14th in the race and 25th in the standings.

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