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Ganassi Signs Indy 500 Champ

Houston — Chip Ganassi Racing added another Indianapolis 500 winner to its team Friday and dropped Honda for Chevrolet in an engine manufacturer switch that seemed to be in the works since the start of the season.

Both moves could have a ripple effect throughout the IndyCar paddock.

KV Racing must now replace reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who turned down an offer to return to the team that rescued him just before the start of the 2011 season when Kanaan didn’t have a ride. The KV extension didn’t require the Brazilian to bring any sponsorship money to the team, but Kanaan chose instead to join Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball at Ganassi, which next year will field cars for five of the last seven Indy 500 winners.

“I wanted to be in the best teams with the best guys who have been beating me forever. I thought about it every single day,” Kanaan said. “The first question that I asked Chip was, ‘What do I have to bring?’ And he said, ‘Your helmet.’ That was a big weight off of my shoulders.”

KV has its sights set on a handful of other drivers, but topping the wish list is James Hinchcliffe, who is tied with Dixon with a series-best three wins this season. KV is offering the same deal to Hinchcliffe, who wouldn’t have to bring sponsorship money to a team for the first time in his career.

Hinchcliffe, in his second season at Andretti Autosport, is still waiting to see what his current team can offer. Andretti failed to come up with an offer during its exclusive negotiating period as the team waited for sponsor GoDaddy to decide if it will continue its involvement in IndyCar, and GoDaddy representatives insist no decision has been made.

Now team owner Michael Andretti has to make a choice: With Ganassi’s switch to Chevrolet on Friday, his team could conceivably be third on the priority list next season behind Penske Racing and Ganassi. Andretti acknowledged he has “an interesting decision to make” regarding sticking with Chevrolet or moving to Honda.

“We are weighing both options in regard to an engine manufacturer for 2014 and working to determine what is best for the team,” he said.

For his part, Roger Penske welcomed longtime rival Ganassi into the mix, “He will be a strong team for Chevy, tell him welcome to the club,” Penske said — but immediately asked where Andretti will be in 2014.

Ganassi and Chevrolet both said the deal was put together quickly, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. Ganassi runs Chevrolets in NASCAR, and he was very critical of Honda at the start of the season.

Ganassi grumbled at the season-opener in St. Pete that Honda didn’t seem committed to winning, and accused the manufacturer of trying to solve problems by sitting around singing “Kumbaya.”

Ganassi’s frustration mounted as Chevrolet drivers won four of the first five IndyCar races, including three by Andretti drivers. Ganassi’s first victory didn’t come until July 7, the 11th race of the season, when Dixon won at Pocono. But it was the first of three consecutive wins for Dixon, who used the stretch to climb back into the championship race, and a win at Mid-Ohio made it four straight for Ganassi and Honda.

A victory by Simon Pagenaud at Baltimore on Sept. 1 was another win for Honda and the manufacturer race is evened out now at eight each. But Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500 with Kanaan, and is leading the championship race with Penske driver Helio Castroneves leading Ganassi’s Dixon by 49 points with three races remaining.

Honda thanked Ganassi for its four championships, three Indy 500s and 40 wins since 2006.

“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,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development.

“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,” he said.

Next season, Chevy will have IndyCar heavyweights Penske and Ganassi under the same roof.

“They have shown they have a great product, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Ganassi said. “It’s something for our team to consolidate our manufacturers and be part of a winning effort. We’ve had some great races and years with Honda, but an opportunity came about to be with Chevrolet, and they showed a sincere effort in wanting us to be part of their program.”