Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

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

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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.”

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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