Ganassi and Felix Sabates. Photo: Associated Press

CGR Rallycross built program through 2015, already hard at work for 2016

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MotorSportsTalk takes a look back at Chip Ganassi Racing Rallycross’ first season in the Red Bull Global Rallycross. First up was a look at how the season started, and how late things came together for the two-car effort, and a further look at the season after the first couple races is below in part two.

After the opening rounds of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season – the Fort Lauderdale season opener and the non-points X Games in Austin – the new Chip Ganassi Racing Rallycross team began to settle into more of a rhythm.

The team overachieved to start, courtesy of Steve Arpin’s runner-up finish in a dynamic drive at X Games to take the Silver medal.

From Daytona, the second and third races of the Red Bull GRC regular season, CGR wasn’t necessarily in “learning the cars” or “scramble” mode as much as they were the first two races.

The season-long theme of consistency for Arpin in his No. 00 Loenbro Ford Fiesta and teammates Brian Deegan, in his No. 38 Rockstar Energy Ford and Jeff Ward in the No. 360 360fly Ford (Ward filling in for Deegan at Daytona and Washington D.C. only) was established from there.

For Deegan, a.k.a. the general of Metal Mulisha, coming into the Ganassi environment provided a welcome new home as the team started to gel.

“I’d say this season has been, as far as a team structure, my best season as far as being with a solid team,” Deegan told MotorSportsTalk.

“I feel our cars were good from the start. They’re a good chassis, a proven chassis, with a proven motor. For a first year team we were really strong.

“I would have liked to win some races, but it really came to (not enough) time, until not getting the cars before the first race. We ran out of time to do some testing.”

The team still hit some high points along the way after its better-than-expected start. Deegan’s best result came in Los Angeles while Arpin failed to podium after Daytona, but was still a regular top-five finisher.

It was clear the polar opposites on the surface meshed as teammates.

“It’s like a perfect example of opposites attract and it worked out perfectly,” Arpin said. “We couldn’t be from more polar opposite backgrounds. The best part is, I have a different way of looking at things.

“In the asphalt sections, I’ll tackled like how I did NASCAR. But he’ll look at it from the aggressive wild side. Yeah I raced dirt cars, but more like asphalt. Deegan grew up manhandling stuff around. With his view, he raised my bar a whole bunch.

“For both of us, then throw in an experienced guy like Jeff Ward, he’s got so much experience, he raised the bar again. Every time he was at the track he had something to offer. It was literally perfect… the great combination of different.”

Deegan was a bit more succinct: “We’re definitely different but it worked out well. We’d never butt heads and we helped each other throughout the year. I’ve had teammates before you can’t get along with. But this was good.”

The breakthrough event came at the season finale. A test in, of all places, the Chip Ganassi Racing parking lot gave the team enough of a boost to improve its pavement pace heading into the Las Vegas closing act.

Arpin and Deegan were pacesetters in practice, with Arpin scoring the team’s first pole position.

Then on race day, it rained, which threw everyone a curveball.

“I’ve made some fast trips down the Interstate in the rain at least!” Arpin said. “It was interesting to say the least. I learned more that day, more than any event that season. Every corner, every lap, I learned something.

“The car was incredible. The thing for me was I didn’t know what I needed to feel,” he explained. “I’m not sure how to describe it – say I needed ‘Feeling X,’ which I’d never felt that before.

“The guys had patience with me for sure. There was trial and error before I told them where the car needed to go. But once we got to the main, it drove incredibly… I couldn’t believe how much grip there was. The biggest struggle was just visibility, because we didn’t launch out front. The car itself, it was beyond belief shocking how much grip the Yokohamas made in the wet.”

The other interesting part of Las Vegas was how fluid the schedule was with the rain hitting, and how it affected preparation and condensed the time period.

“That was quite a busy schedule,” CGR Rallycross team manager Carl Goodman explained. “Usually we’ll have all our track activities over two days. With practice, qualifying and possibly the first heat on first day – the warmup, semifinal, LCQ and final.

“But for Vegas, to really make more of a day of it on the Wednesday, they had only practice on the Tuesday. It’s quite normal to not run early in the morning. You run later in the day. It’s usually very tight. Then you had the weather thrown in as well.”

Regardless of the challenges, Arpin and Deegan finished fourth and fifth in what all members of the team considered their best weekend of the season. For the year, Arpin finished sixth in points and Deegan 10th despite the limited schedule. Arpin, too, was the top finishing M-Sport Ford.

Arpin said given how the year went, that he’s even more excited about 2016. Deegan will look to spend more time in Charlotte too for additional testing.

“That’s the worst part for the other teams, and better than best part for us!” Arpin said. “We got back from Vegas and we’re digging like we’re going this weekend.

“When we did Barbados and LA, and went back there, Deegan and I were good but we had some downtime. Barbados, we were stronger yet. Then we had a good amount of downtime.

“We put into motion everything we’ve learned throughout the season. One little test, at the parking lot of CGR, and then we go out, top of practice, and top of board until the rain comes.

“With that being said, with just a bit of time to get a tiny bit of testing, I can’t wait to see what this offseason brings us.”

Goodman, too, is bullish on what 2016 could bring – since 2015 seemed to vary on who starred at any particular weekend.

“It was very interesting to see the phases. All the teams had strong times and weak times,” Goodman said. “Ken Block had a very start section. The VWs were always dangerous, and really came on strong late in the year. Herta was fast at times. OMSE cars could never be ruled out, given the history with team and series. Then they finally get a 1-2 at end of season. Nelson Piquet was good too. It was interesting to see the ebb and flow between the teams.

“Holidays? I’ve never heard of them… I’m sure everyone in racing, is familiar with working through the holidays.

“We know what we want to work on. We never plan to make up the field, make up the numbers. We have a team here to win. No one is after the participation award.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).