No-tow no problem for Chip Ganassi Racing quartet

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INDIANAPOLIS – If you’re looking for a sneaky good bet for pole winner this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, consider any of Chip Ganassi Racing’s four drivers.

And, for evidence to back your wager, cite their no-tow speeds.

Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon both recorded no-tow speeds during Thursday’s practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The no-tow speed – laps when cars are traveling alone and not in packs – is an accurate measurement of how fast cars will travel this weekend during qualifying, when drivers run alone.

“There’s no help out there during qualifying,” said Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. “You know in your heart of hearts whether you’ve got a car that can be in the first or second row. It’s been proven consistently over the last couple of years that it’s pretty hard to get from the middle to the front during the race, so qualifying here carries importance. You’re weighed and measured here on how you qualify. It’s really important to understand that.”

Kimball’s fastest lap during Thursday’s session – the fourth day of practice leading up qualifying scheduled Saturday and Sunday – was 225.141 mph in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda, the second-fastest no-tow lap of the day.

“We were pretty quick (Thursday), but at the end of that run the last few laps didn’t count because we were within seven seconds of a tow,” Kimball explained. “We look at it, but we also discount it, because we know in qualifying we’ll be the only car on track.”

Ganassi’s drivers – Kimball, Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton – systematically divide their practice sessions, working on race setups, then switching over to qualifying simulations later in the day.

“It takes a while to change a car over to a proper qualifying setup, no matter what aero package you chose,” Hull said. “Oftentimes that’s chosen for you by the weather conditions. You can’t just lick your thumb and put it up in the air and think, ‘OK, we’re just going to take all the downforce out of the car and see if we can crack one off.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

The best example of that was Wednesday, when Dixon worked on revamping his race setup during unusually windy conditions. Teams are expected to focus primarily on qualifying setups today, when they receive additional turbocharger boost in preparation for the weekend qualifying sessions.

“Coming closer to qualifying day, that becomes the focus,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner from the pole position. “We did sort of an average changeover (Thursday) and ran a couple of sims. But it’s always difficult to read into that because any seconds that are different on the no-tow chart changes your speed significantly. It’s a good balance to try to figure out where you may stand and what position you’re racing for, but today and obviously tomorrow and Sunday are when it counts.”

Although Ganassi’s drivers hadn’t recorded top-five speeds during the first four days, they were confident about their chances in qualifying based on no-tow speeds before Friday. Kanaan added to the confidence level when he laid down the best no-tow lap early in today’s “Fast Friday” practice on the 2.5-mile oval, 231.054 mph in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Chilton was close behind in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda, at 230.488.

“I think it puts us in a good position to have something to build on,” Hull said. “If you’re scrambling really hard toward the end of the week to find free track because you’re freaked out because you can’t get a no-tow number, then that’s an issue. But this week we’ve had a good week of practice and we’ve gone out and worked on that no-tow number.”

The point of qualifying, of course, is to put yourself in a good starting position to finish well. Once the race starts, all bets are off.

“Some of the best advice Chip gives us is, ‘If you’ve got a car that can win, then go out and win. But if you’ve got a car that’s good for second, then get second,’” Kimball said. “That’s a little different here at the Indy 500 because it’s about going out and winning.”

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