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.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500