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FRANCHITTI RETIRES, SHAKEUP IN GANASSI RACING LINEUP
Author: Mark W. Theisen
December 18th 2013 -
WEST BEND, WISCONSIN DECEMBER 14, 2013: IndyCar Racing in general and Target Chip Ganassi Racing in specific suffered a huge loss since I last wrote. Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti was forced to make a decision that no race car driver really wants to make on November 14th, that of retiring before he actually wanted to do so.

Franchitti suffered a broken right ankle, a spinal fracture and a concussion as the result of an accident in the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston on October 6th. Initially the rehabilitation program was thought to have Franchitti ready for the 2014 season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 30th of next year and the Ganassi Racing moved forward with that knowledge in hand.

Subsequent evaluations and extensive tests indicated that the initial diagnosis and theories were not right and that Franchitti had sustained more significant injuries, injuries that will heal but would place him at a significantly higher risk should he reinjure them again in another racing crash.

"Since my racing accident in Houston,Ē said Franchitti, "I have been in the expert care of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom had my health, my safety and recovery their top priority.

I am eternally grateful for the medical care that I have received over the last several weeks. One month removed from the accident and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing and I will adhere to those orders.Ē

On the track over the years Franchitti earned the reputation of being a smart driver and his decision is just an extension of that reputation. The sport will miss his "will to winĒ attitude but his decision was respected by every one involved and forced Ganassi Racing to re-examine its plans for 2014.

Those plans were announced on the floor of the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis on December 12th in the Chevrolet booth where all the principles of the Ganassi organization were present including all its drivers and key sponsor representatives.

Tony Kanaan, who came over to Ganassi Racing from KVR Racing at the conclusion of the 2013 season to pilot the number 8 ITT Data Acquisition Dallara Chevrolet was introduced to the media and crowd in attendance at the show as the new driver of the number 10 Target Dallara Chevrolet for the team, thus putting Kanaan in the seat of the car of his best friend, Franchitti.

Not only is he following Franchitti in the number 10 but also the late Dan Wheldon, who also drive the number 10 for Ganassi and for that Kanaan was truly grateful and excited.

"Itís unbelievable for this to happen,Ē said Kanaan. "Iím Happy. Iím excited. Itís a hard shoe to fill. A lot of good history in that car and hopefully weíll be able to make more history; itís an honor to be given this opportunity.Ē

For all this to come together so quickly it had to fit and in the eyes of the teamís principle sponsor, Target Stores Incorporated and ITT Data also had to agree to let Kanaan move from their car to the number 10. This was done with the hiring of Ryan Briscoe to take the number 8 car and ITT Data was pleased to be getting a veteran driver who has had history with Ganassi over the years and his aggressive style of racing suited the ITT people so the switch was announced today.

Defending IndyCar series champion, Scott Dixon, remains in the number 9 Target car and Charlie Kimball stays in the Novo sponsored race car after recording his first series win in 2013. Thus Ganassi Racing returns to a four car team for 2014 all with full sponsorship for the entire season. It was no wonder there was nothing but smiles all around during the announcement including the people from Chevrolet who are now the engine supplier to Ganassi after Honda had powered the team the last nine years. Quite a lot of changes for one organization but I expect they will not miss a beat.

INDYCAR and INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY NOTES:

With the holiday season now approaching most teams will take the time off to spend time with family and friends but a few announcements have been made since I last wrote.

Ed Carpenter Racing has hired Mike Conway as their driver for the road and street courses for next season, leaving team owner, Carpenter to drive only the oval courses. Long noted for his exceptional skills of the road courses Conway will fill in for the team in the area that has always been an Achilles heel for the team owner/driver.

Expected to come early in early 2014 are announcements from Panther Racing as to who they will have in the car for 2014 after letting JR Hildebrand go midway though this past season and opting to have different drivers fill in for the team at various tracks. A second car is possible at Panther if sponsorship can be found.

Andretti Autosports announced their four car lineup for 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti James Hinchcliffe joined by Carlos Munoz for the season. Munoz replaced E.J.Viso on the team after doing a tremendous job for the team in last yearís Indianapolis 500. A fifth car is also possible at Andretti who switched from Chevrolet to Honda for 2014.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports retains Simon Pagenaud for 2014 but has added rookie Mikhail Aleshin to its team. Alehsin brings new sponsors to the series as well as money needed by the Schmidt team to continue to it is a win/win situation for all involved.

Team Penske is set with Will Power and Helio Castroneves being joined by former Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who has already participated in testing for the team to re-familiarize himself with the IndyCar after spending the last several seasons in NASCAR.

Dale Coyne Racing, Barracuda Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing and VR Racing Technology join Panther as teams that have yet to announce their final plans and driver lineups but it should not be too long into 2014 before we know.

The Indiana Motorsports Commission approved preliminary plans by Hulman & Company to invest state funds on infrastructure upgrades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on December 10th. The state of Indiana wanted the Speedway to target improvements to enhance the quality of motorsport events and the fan experience at the facility.

The first phase of that has been already completed with the addition of an apron in the four turns of the Speedway oval to be used in NASCAR events, enhancing competition and making the event more exciting for the race fan.

The repaving and reconfiguration of the IMS road course, a project also already completed will make for more exciting road course events including the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis set for Saturday May 10th on the road course in the infield of the Speedway to kick off month of May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 2014. State money will also be spent of refurbishing of the catch fencing around the entire facility.

Money will not be spent on lights for the possibility of night racing at the facility. Economic studies showed this $20-million investment did not provide the best return for taxpayers.
Seating improvements, better grandstand access with more elevators for the physically challenged and suite renovations are part of the plan as is new video screens and Scoring Pylon. Restrooms will be modernized as well as improved traffic flow and access for all.

The bond issue authorized by the Indiana state House and signed into law earlier this year will generate about $90-million to fund improvements at IMS. The bonds will be repaid through credits equal to incremental state sales and income taxes from the Motorsports Investment District and proceeds from a new admissions tax. IMS also will fund at least $2-million annually toward lease payments and debt service.

We should see a lot of this already in place come May.

The much talked about and much delayed "aero kitsĒ to enhance appearance and race ability for the Dallara chassis will be brought out n 2015. Chevrolet and Honda will provide kits that will provide distinct aerodynamic configurations for their teams in hopes that these "kitsĒ will lead to an on track advantage for the particular manufacturer while greatly enhancing the racing and thus fan enjoyabilty. These kits will be designed to differentiate between the teams and have been postponed for some time now dues to the cost being strapped onto teams during tough economic times.

Hulman & Company now has all the pieces in place with Mark Miles hiring marketing and promotion specialists to pitch the series to sponsors in hopes of replacing IZOD as series title sponsor as well as sponsors for races and events throughout the schedule.

With Christmas and New Years approaching it is my wish that it be a time of peace for all!

Watch for INDYCAR updates as they happen in 2014!