Racing is Chip Ganassi’s business. Winning is part of Chip Ganassi’s business.
Winning regularly has become a staple for his teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
But in Red Bull Global Rallycross, Chip Ganassi Racing is starting from ground zero, with two brand new Ford Fiestas and a hungry pairing of Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan as drivers.
The program was only announced in March, during the race week for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring for Ganassi’s TUDOR program, immediately after IndyCar testing at Barber, and before the NASCAR weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Ganassi is not underestimating the challenge ahead of him, as he begins the quest for success in his newest chapter of motorsports this season.
“I’m the person that likes to come in and under promise and over deliver,” Ganassi told MotorSportsTalk in an interview at Red Bull GRC media day in Long Beach. “I’m not all flashy with the big splash and come in and say, ‘We’ll do this.’ We’re here to compete and learn, but we’re here to win races.”
Ganassi’s team has gained traction with several youth-oriented and targeted events the last few years, notably the Ganassi Sound Garage event held last September.
Getting into Red Bull GRC, Ganassi said, is proof positive of looking towards the next generation of racing fans.
“It’s no secret we all want the younger demographic,” Ganassi said. “We like to think as a team we’re leading that perspective. Coming here we have a lot to learn.
“Our expectations are tempered by the realities of physical aspects of the sport we have to overcome yet. But we feel pretty good. We’re looking forward to it.”
In Arpin and Deegan, Ganassi has found two rally veterans, even if Deegan’s flat brim hat and tattoos don’t fit the traditional mold of a Ganassi driver.
Deegan, an action sports legend primarily in Freestyle Motocross, has since shifted into off-road truck racing and rally racing. Last year Deegan finished 12th in points with two podiums in only five starts, as he raced only half the 10-race schedule.
But while Ganassi may be downplaying expectations, Deegan certainly isn’t.
“I’ve got in a rally car, won some races, and I never felt I was with the right equipment,” Deegan told MotorSportsTalk. “Now getting with Chip Ganassi Racing, it should be unlimited. We don’t want to just win races, but we want to be a dominant team. I’m excited.”
Deegan says the area of the game he needs to improve is on pavement; he said he needs to become a better pavement driver.
As for hooking the youth? “The car racing world has aged. Between skate BMX and moto, getting kids over to car racing isn’t easy. Getting them in GRC has helped a lot. We still have a ways to go. But we keep it exciting.”
Arpin ended seventh in points a year ago, with one podium in 10 starts. More often than not, poor luck struck him during weekends.
“We started strong at the beginning; halfway through we were still third in points,” Arpin told MotorSportsTalk. “We just ran into mechanical after mechanical. I only had one crash. But I learned a bunch of things not to do and to do.”
He’s praised both Ganassi and Deegan as they look ahead to the year.
“We’ll be in top-notch equipment. I have the best of best with Deegan as my teammate, given his perspective and his view. We have such polar opposite backgrounds. We have such a different view of looking at things; on how to attack each corner. With that being said, winning is nothing less than the goal.
“Realistically, it’s a set of doors I have tried to get through since ‘09-‘10 in NASCAR. It’s a first class organization. To race like someone with Mr. Ganassi, not to take away from others, but racing is his thing. It’s not other programs.
“For me as a racer growing up, to race with someone like that, it becomes that much more special. Walking in those doors, into that kingdom they call a race shop it’s the most beautiful thing in a world.”
Mr. Ganassi, again, just wants the thing the late Rodney Dangerfield always said in stand-up acts he never got.
“Again I hope to earn everyone’s respect, and build a solid team foundation for going forward,” Ganassi said.
PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.
No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).
He well surpassed expectations.
“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”
By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.
While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.
Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).
Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.
“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”
With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.
Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.
“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”
In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.
Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.
Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.
“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”
The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.
I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.
The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.
“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”
Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.
Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.
Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.
Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.
“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”
RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.
“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”
It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.
Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.
Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.