Ganassi, Pruett excited for Ford future

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Tuesday’s announcement – a long-awaited and anticipated confirmation that Chip Ganassi Racing’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship effort would switch from BMW to Ford Ecoboost engines – changes the game in the merged series before it’s even run its first race.

How, you ask? The Michael Shank Racing team was likely to be Ford’s flagship team, and it has had the longest history with the manufacturer in GRAND-AM Rolex Series history. Ganassi, though, brings the championship pedigree (five GRAND-AM titles, the last three with BMW) and consistent week-in, week-out threat to win that Shank’s team has often struggled to produce.

That’s no knock on Shank, but when you’re the scrappy, plucky underdog compared to the “Goliath” that is CGR, it’s always more of an uphill struggle to achieve the same results on a regular basis.

If nothing else, Ganassi has given himself a new nickname as a result of the partnership.

“You can call me ‘Mr. Detroit,’ I guess, with having both Ford and Chevrolet now,” Ganassi told me Tuesday at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

“For many years we’ve been in different series, with IndyCar, sports car and NASCAR, and we’ve been under three manufacturers for a long time. So now, we’re down to two manufacturers. It’s exciting and it’s really no different than a car dealer with more brands under his belt.”

Indeed it’s Ganassi who has spread his wings to have two of North America’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers at once. But while the decision to not bring everything under the Chevrolet umbrella may come as a surprise, Ganassi explained that the Ecoboost platform, a turbocharged V6 built more for efficiency, was a better fit for his sports car operation.

“I’ve been a proponent of ‘economy car,’ mileage, ‘going green,’ renewable, all these sort of buzzwords over the last 10 years,” he said. “Somewhere along the line we lost ‘performance.’ With Ecoboost, we’ll have economy, and performance. I’ve been preaching that you can have that in racing. It’s about using the least fuel as you can to get to the finish, right?”

Lead driver of one of the CGR Riley Ford Daytona Prototypes is Scott Pruett, himself a five-time Rolex DP champion and a five-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

For Pruett, the switch to Ford marks a homecoming and an anniversary. He’s also driven for the “blue oval” in IndyCar and NASCAR.

“The last time was when Doug Yates, interestingly, was building the engines on the ’32 Tide ride,'” Pruett said. “And it’s pretty interesting, I was telling the Ford guys this story. 30 years ago this month was my first opportunity to drive a big car, and it was a Ford: a front-engined Mustang GTP, ’83, Elkhart Lake, Wis.”

Pruett explained the challenges the DP teams are facing with such a condensed timeline between making this announcement and upgrading the car with the necessary performance and aero adjustments, before the team’s first scheduled test December 14-15 at Daytona. One of the few constants is staying in Continental Tires, which P2 teams need to adapt to.

“We’re getting the engine fit, components organized; it’s a lot of reorganization to move from a normally aspirated V8 to a turbocharged V6, and do all the other updates,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate (all the rule news) is coming now, because realistically this should have happened in June and July. That makes it more difficult for the teams, considering the reality that this largely falls on the Daytona Prototype guys, not the P2 guys.”

Ganassi confirmed two DPs will run at the Rolex 24 and continues to pursue the second full-season car there. The team adds a fourth IndyCar for Tony Kanaan in 2014, and remains constant with two Chevrolets in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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