Rolex 24 Grand Marshal Chip Ganassi on verge of 200th overall career win as team owner

Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
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The boys are back in town and they’re ready for some serious racing action this weekend.

That best describes Ford Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Saturday’s 56th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Not only are defending GTLM winners Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais back to defend their 2017 Rolex 24 title in the No. 66 Ford GT, team owner Chip Ganassi will be Rolex royalty, serving as Grand Marshal for the event.

And if that’s not all, Ganassi – who has been coming to Daytona since first serving as a crew member in 1985 – is going for his 200th overall race win as a team owner across all platforms he’s been involved in over his career, including IMSA, IndyCar, WEC and NASCAR.

Chip Ganassi goes for his 200th career win as a team owner in this weekend’s Rolex 24. (Photo: IMSA via LAT)

He’s also seeking his third overall Rolex win, having previously done so in both Prototype and GTLM.

“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is always a special race to me, not only because it signifies the beginning of the racing season but more importantly because of the magnitude of the event itself,” Ganassi said. “There are few races in the world that capture the imagination of race fans everywhere as well as the automotive industry and the Rolex is one of them.

“It also has a diverse group or manufacturers and drivers alike and when you win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, you know you have accomplished something special.”

 

The No. 66 will start Saturday’s 24-hour endurance race second in the GTLM class, just missing the top qualifying spot by 19/100ths of a second. It was on the pole for last year’s race.

“How cool would it be if we could win this thing for Chip’s 200th win after he gives us the call to start our engines?,” Hand said. “That would be something, for sure.

“In the history of Chip Ganassi Racing, they’ve always had good race cars at Daytona, so I think we have another good shot at it. Last year it came down to six or seven cars at the finish, so really it’s a no-mistakes race. You have to be clean for 24 hours. We spent a lot of time at Roar trying to make a good race car and obviously we did pretty well because we had the quickest lap.”

The No. 66 was the quickest in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 three weeks ago, while the No. 67 was third-quickest, giving them first and third choices of garage/pit space.

“The key for us on the No. 66 team is to always make a good race car, because you have to have a car you can put in position,” Hand said. “Sometimes you have to pass on the inside, sometimes on the outside. It has to be a good overall race car you can place anywhere. Hopefully we get back to the race and have a good car like we left the Roar with.”

Meanwhile, the No. 67 of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon will start fifth in the nine-car class (it finished 10th in last year’s Rolex), having qualified with a time of 1:43:091. The team was the No. 2 qualifier for last year’s race.

“Daytona is unique and like no other track we race on,” driver Richard Westbrook said. “It’s all about a compromise of top speed on the straight to get through the traffic and carrying enough downforce to help you through the infield.

“To turn consistent quick laps, you have to be quick through the infield but also make the passes on the straight, otherwise your laps are ruined following slower traffic through the infield.”

Added Briscoe, “I think last year was a really strong performance for our cars. “We had really good pace and we proved that we could win the race.

“I think we come into this year feeling fairly confident that we have done what we can to prepare, but there are so many unknowns. We have a lot of experience with the equipment and race, but it’s always a tough one. It’s a 24-hour race and a lot can, and will, happen. We just have to trust our preparation.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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