Chip Ganassi Racing

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Hull: 50th Ganassi sports car win a ‘terrific, major win’

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Golf has four official majors. Racing has several unofficial majors.

Chip Ganassi Racing has now won the last two of those unofficial majors, having delivered back-to-back wins in the 24-hour races at Le Mans in June and Daytona in January, respectively, in the team’s first and second year with the new Ford GT.

The Daytona win was a milestone for Ganassi’s sports car program overall. The Ganassi sports car program launched at the 2004 Rolex 24 at Daytona, nearly 15 years after the CGR IndyCar program began in 1990.

And the Daytona win was the team’s 50th in North American sports car racing, combining the records from both the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team had 46 wins in the Daytona Prototype era before scoring its first three in IMSA with the Ford GT last season, and Daytona marked the 50th, courtesy of the effort from Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais in the team’s No. 66 Ford GT.

This does not factor in the wins achieved by Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in the FIA World Endurance Championship, nor does it include the Ganassi win at Le Mans last year, as that was achieved by the U.S. team in the WEC race (also Hand, Mueller and Bourdais driving).

Mueller, Hand, Bourdais and race grand marshal Dario Franchitti. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Mueller, Hand, Bourdais and race grand marshal Dario Franchitti. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Alas, official statistics aside, Ganassi managing director Mike Hull spoke to the value of winning these “majors” like Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring. A Sebring win this weekend for the Ford GTs would match the feat achieved by Corvette Racing in holding all three titles at once, last achieved in 2015 and into 2016 (Corvette won Daytona and Sebring in both 2015 and 2016 and Le Mans in 2015, before Ford and Ganassi’s win last year).

“It was a significant win,” Hull told NBC Sports, before going into the golfing analogy.

“I love golf and I watch a lot of it. I was reading up when Tiger Woods was in a press conference, either in L.A. or San Diego several years ago. He’d won the event. They asked, ‘Tiger, what does it mean to win this tournament, given you’ve grown up here, have your friends and family, etc.?’

“He said, ‘Listen, one of my goals is to win more golf tournaments than everyone else, but you have to understand that people probably won’t remember I won this event. They’ll remember I won majors. Obviously my goal is to be better than Jack Nicklaus if I can be, because he set the bar. It’s nothing in deference to this tournament or the PGA Tour, but I’ll be remembered for majors.’

“So when I think about winning a race like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, this race team, all of us will be remembered for winning majors. Championships are one things, but major events are bigger. This being the 50th win is terrific. If you win others, they might say it for a day or so, but they don’t say it the rest of year or life.”

The win was Ganassi’s first GT Le Mans class win at Daytona after winning six times overall from 2006 through 2015 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015).

Hull reflected on how far out of sorts the team was at its first Rolex 24 in 2004, because they were all collectively new to endurance racing.

“The winning process defines our culture at Chip Ganassi Racing,” Hull said. “Culturally, the people who moved in 2004 had come from the culture of winning. But none of us knew anything about sports car racing!

“We had a miserable first Daytona 24, and we came away with it and had a roundtable conference discussion… by the end of it, we had a list of 570 items to improve for next 24 of Daytona! We were miserable at endurance racing. We knew how to sprint race. We won that year’s title by sprint racing and learning where we needed to improve from there.”

The task was made a little easier at this year’s Rolex 24 by the fact both arms of the Ganassi, Ford and Multimatic sports car program – both the U.S. and U.K. teams – were all housed in Ganassi’s Woodland Dr. Indianapolis shop prior to the race. It also was easier running four of the same models, rather than split between two DPs in their final run and two GTs in their race debut as occurred last year.

“I don’t think it was as insurmountable as people thought from the outside!” Hull said. “Corporations pay large amounts of money for team-building exercises. In our case, the WEC team came to Indy for a week! We had a whole week of team building and it was fantastic!”

Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Making the win all the more special was that it came after an intense bout with three of the other four manufacturers in class, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche. Hull said the nerves persisted through the miserable overnight conditions, as rain consistently fell at the Daytona International Speedway.

“We were all engaged 24 hours. It was intense,” Hull said. “The rain started 7 p.m. at night and never stopped. That defined the category and quality of not just Chip Ganassi Racing, but all the people in the race in class. Everyone hung in there. Everyone raced hard, clean, and worked hard all night. It was a testament to the strength of the GTLM category, and strength of the IMSA series.”

Hull also continued to note his respect for the Corvette Racing team, which has long set the bar within the GT ranks and which Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is trying to match up with and beat on a regular basis.

“When you look at things, analysis creates paralysis sometimes. But I still consider the Corvette team, with its lineage and success, the best,” Hull said. “In various categories where we’ve raced, if you can race on the same day with the same people, wheel to wheel, you’re achieving a lot with your program. That’s the only measure you have.

“Tom Brady has five Super Bowls. With young high school quarterbacks, who are they using as the mark? Tom Brady. They want to win six.

“It’s no different in racing. You look at the best in the category, over time, and you want to race with those guys and get past them. That’s how we look at Corvette. They’ve set the mark on and off track. They race so full of integrity. You want to race like they do.”

Ganassi’s team last won at Sebring in 2014, when Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti won overall. The team will look for its third straight endurance race “major” – as will the Hand/Mueller/Bourdais trio – ahead of this weekend’s race.

Ganassi confirms GE LED Lighting for Dixon at St. Petersburg

Photo: Chip Ganassi Racing
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If the trivia question ever gets asked, what was Scott Dixon’s first primary sponsor after Target, GE LED Lighting will be the answer.

The lighting and electrical powerhouse will be the primary sponsor for Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda for the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend, confirming reports out Monday it was set to step in.

At the moment it’s a one-race deal with NTT Data, Tony Kanaan’s primary sponsor, stepping up in an associate role. GE has sponsored Ganassi cars off-and-on before since 2012 with Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Sage Karam.

“With more than a century of engineering game-changing lighting products, we can appreciate the science and physics that go into each Indy car race. That’s why we’re proud to represent Scott and Chip Ganassi Racing, and our team at GE Lighting will be cheering for a win in the season opener in St. Petersburg,” said Daraius Patell, North America Consumer Lighting GM.

Steve Lauletta, Chip Ganassi Racing president added, “I want to first thank GE for being such a great partner for the team over the years. We’re proud to have enjoyed a long relationship with them– and in sports those are very hard to come by. We’ve partnered together in the past with paint scheme races in St. Petersburg, but this will be the first time Scott will carry the livery for us on the 9 car.”

IndyCar starts this weekend and resumes on NBCSN on April 9 in Long Beach.

IndyCar 2017 team preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

No Target, no Chevrolet. The Honda return and more questions await Ganassi. Photo: IndyCar
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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Chip Ganassi Racing is next up with its fearsome foursome, in what will be a big transition season as the team shifts back to the manufacturer that has delivered it the most glory in the last 20-plus years, Honda.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

Drivers

8-Max Chilton (Brandon Fry, Julian Robertson)
9-Scott Dixon (Chris Simmons, Mike Hull)
10-Tony Kanaan (Todd Malloy, Barry Wanser)
83-Charlie Kimball (Eric Cowdin, Scott Harner)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Arthur J. Gallagher (No. 8), TBA (No. 9), NTT Data, 7 Eleven (No. 10), Tresiba (No. 83)

Tony Kanaan remains solid. Photo: IndyCar
Tony Kanaan remains solid. Photo: IndyCar

What went right in 2016: Dixon continued winning multiple races, Kanaan’s form was probably the best its been in three seasons at Ganassi, Kimball drastically improved his qualifying which produced better results, and Chilton brought a fresh perspective to the fourth seat. 

What went wrong in 2016: There were too many mistakes and mechanical issues that blunted Dixon’s title hopes. None of the other three won races and that left Ganassi at a 10-2 win deficit to Penske with equal Chevrolet aero kits and engines. Kimball’s determination occasionally ruffled feathers, while Chilton struggled to convert respectable qualifying efforts into decent results.

How does Kimball continue his gradual growth? Photo: IndyCar
How does Kimball continue his gradual growth? Photo: IndyCar

What’s changed for 2017: The biggest and most obvious change is the swap to Honda aero kits and engines, and there’s no Target on Dixon’s car. Some crew swapping occurs throughout the four cars as well, but for only the second time since Ganassi expanded to four cars in 2011, the team has the same four drivers returning for another season (2011 to 2012).

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Develop and grow with the Honda package, and hopefully get it sorted sooner rather than later. As is a common refrain, Dixon’s title hopes would be helped by a faster start, and the other three members of the team will look for further podiums and wins. Dixon and perhaps Kanaan would keep them in title contention; success at the double points Indianapolis 500 with a better package will help that cause.

Max Chilton needs to improve in 2017. Photo: IndyCar
Max Chilton needs to improve in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: A motivated Scott Dixon will remain in title contention down to the final race but come up short of his fifth title, despite his tendency of winning titles in odd years of late (2013, 2015). The Honda package may be better but will not be enough to overcome the fleet of Penske drivers, and their Chevrolets, this season. Tony Kanaan will end his three-year winless drought with his second Indianapolis 500 victory, because the combination of TK, engineer Todd Malloy and the Honda super speedway aero kit and power unit is simply deadly on paper. Much as I like Kimball, I worry he’ll regress a bit and fall out of the top-10 in points this season, while Chilton will score his first top-five finish this year but still struggle to break into the top-15 in points.

Kyle Lavigne: The success of Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017 will come down to how quickly they get their hands around Honda’s aero package, but they should get to speed relatively quickly. One area where they should improve is the super speedway package, chiefly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2016, only Tony Kanaan showed enough speed to challenge for victory. Expect that to change in 2017.

Whether or not a drive from the Ganassi camp will challenge for the championship is a different story and will depend on the team’s ability to improve Honda’s road/street course package. This will likely happen, given the might of the Chip Ganassi organization, but it might too big of an ask for one or multiple drivers from this stable to enter the Sonoma finale within reach of the championship. But, history tells us to never bet against people like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton should be in the mix, albeit on a less consistent basis.

Luke Smith: After a tough 2016 that yielded only two victories and no drivers breaking into the top five in the points, Chip Ganassi Racing needs a big year. The switch to Honda is an interesting one, and anything less than being the top Honda team would be a failure. There will naturally be an adjustment period though.

Scott Dixon remains an ever-potent force, but I don’t see a fifth title coming his way this year, although he will make the top five in points and take a handful of wins. Kanaan should break his win drought, and I’ll even tip Charlie Kimball to return to winner’s circle this year, perhaps late in the season. As for Max Chilton? Let’s see what season two brings. But I’d be surprised if he isn’t the lowest-ranking Ganassi driver in the end-of-year standings once again.

Ganassi confirms third Ford GT for Sebring

Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
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As predicted by Sportscar365 about a week ago, there will be three Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs competing at this month’s 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Between the two U.S.-based entries run out of Ganassi’s headquarters in Indianapolis and the two U.K.-based ones for the FIA World Endurance Championship run by Multimatic, there have been four Ford GTs at each of the last two 24-hour races in Le Mans and Daytona, both of which Ford has won with the trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais.

That trio continues in the team’s No. 66 car, with Scott Dixon again joining Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 and the same No. 68 crew of Olivier Pla, Stefan Muecke and Billy Johnson continuing in a third car, set to be run by the WEC team.

“We wish we could send all four cars like we did at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but the WEC cars will already be prepped for The Prologue test at Monza and the first race at Silverstone,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “Even though it’s impossible to bring all of our Ford GTs, we didn’t want to see this important opportunity to continue our cross-development pass us by.”

Ford won overall at Sebring with its engine in the back of Ganassi’s Riley DP in 2014 with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti driving.

A win this month would see Ford hold the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring titles in class all at once, a feat Corvette Racing achieved in 2015 and also into 2016.

Dixon, Ganassi rebound in evening test session

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A quick look at the time sheets from the first test session of this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View could make one think that Chip Ganassi Racing started off on the back foot. None of the four Chip Ganassi drivers finished the session in top ten, with Scott Dixon the best of the bunch in 12th in his No. 9 Honda.

However, the four-time champion rebounded in the evening session, spending most of the night in top five and ending it in fourth. Teammates Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan flexed some of their muscle as well, locking in spots in sixth and eighth.

Dixon never appeared concerned after the lackluster opening session, even offering a reason he and his teammates were not among the fastest early on.

“We didn’t do new tires,” he said of the first session times. “It looked like a bunch of people did new tires at the end and did a couple of different aero adjustments to try and get an idea on some of the data that we’ve been looking at through the off-season.”

Phoenix International Raceway provides an excellent platform for the organization as it transitions back to Honda power and begins working with Honda’s aero kit. Dixon dominated last year’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, leading the final 155 laps on his way to victory, and his performance that night serves as a benchmark that will help the organization gauge its competitiveness.

As far as Dixon is concerned, in spite of the lap times, the opening session was a positive experience. “The engine feels really good, and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent,” he detailed. “It’s always hard to tell in preseason testing, especially with manufacturers, how tuned up they are, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out once we come back here for the race. But for us and our testing program today, the session went fairly well.”

Dixon was also keen to emphasize the team’s history with Honda. As one of its flagship operations upon entering the sport in the 1990s, Chip Ganassi Racing won nine championships with Honda, including the first for both manufacturer and team in 1996.

“As a team we’ve achieved a lot with HPD and Honda, so it’s nice to be back working with a lot of those people, and as I said, they run the program vastly different (from Chevrolet),” he said. “So I think the program in itself actually fits our team a little bit better, but you know, we’ll have to see.”

While changing manufacturers may not seem daunting, especially if it means returning to one you’re already familiar with, there are many elements that complicate matters. For starters, Honda’s engine is vastly different from what it was in 2013, the last year Chip Ganassi’s team competed under the Honda umbrella. They ran with a single-turbo 2.2-liter V6 that year. Honda switched to a twin-turbo platform in 2014, but Ganassi’s team had already moved to Chevrolet by then. And, of course, there is Honda’s aero kit and its much-documented struggles against Chevrolet’s.

Dixon understands it may be an uphill battle, but he is happy to face a new challenge. “There’s a lot to learn, a lot to take in. It’s exciting, it’s a new challenge, and definitely happy to be behind the No. 9, and we’ll see what we can get this season.”

And, not to be ignored, Dixon’s appearance mirrored that of The Stig, Top Gear’s tame racing driver. The Kiwi’s entry was adorned in a white livery with a driver’s suit to match and did not hide the fact the team has not yet announced a sponsor in the wake of Target’s departure.

“You don’t like it?” Dixon quipped when asked about his all-white attire. He politely declined to elaborate on the details.

“That’s above my pay grade, man,” he joked when asked about the sponsor search.

Testing continues for the man in white, and the rest of the 21-car field, tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. local time.