Photo courtesy IMSA

Chip Ganassi downplays 200th win, just wants to keep rolling along

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chip Ganassi likes to tell his drivers there is no such thing as accidents, all are preventable.

Unless, of course, a meteor falls from the sky and destroys a race car. That’s the only true accident, according to the veteran team owner.

His two cars had the GT Le Mans class well covered last weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which should have been a relief for Ganassi. The team of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais was most dominant for over 22 hours, but was caught by strategy and beaten by the sister team of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon.

The two cars combined to lead all but nine of the 783 laps in class completed at Daytona International Speedway. That’s an agonizing feeling for a car owner, Ganassi said, because it would literally take a meteor to snatch certain victory. Nothing short of a catastrophe was going to keep one of his Ford GT’s out of victory lane.

It was nerve-wracking for Ganassi, and perhaps 24 hours of tension muted the post-race party for his 200th win as an organization. He was still reluctant to celebrate Wednesday and said that 200 victories are a testament to team manager Mike Hull and a winning culture that stretches through his organization.

“My hat is off to the team, the job that those guys do,” Ganassi said. “There will be time to reflect on that another time. This is the beginning of the season, it was the beginning of the sports car season. The beginning of the NASCAR season is coming up, then the beginning of the IndyCar season. I think it is my job as the guy who operates the company is to just get everyone launched. Let’s get this thing started, let’s go win some races and go win some championships.”

The 1-2 finish at Daytona was the eighth at the Rolex for Ganassi, who was also the grand marshal for the race. His teams have won six overall Rolex’s and two of three class victories since he dropped from prototype to GTLM in 2016.

Ganassi’s first win came in IndyCar when Michael Andretti won in 1994 at Australia. The 100th win also came in an IndyCar race when Dixon won in 2008 at Nashville. Ganassi has won championships with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Dixon. He’s won the 500 with Montoya, Franchitti and Dixon.

Ganassi is the only team owner to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Rolex and 12 Hours of Sebring.

It was fitting that the winning team included Dixon, who will end his career as one of the greatest in IndyCar. He has 41 career victories with Ganassi, and at 16 years with the team owner is the longest-tenured driver in organization history.

Dixon and Ganassi both joke that Dixon’s job security is because he never calls his boss and never complains. The reality is that driver and car owner both want the same thing and take a straightforward approach to accomplishing goals.

“Everybody thrives in the winning culture that this team has, and they’ve definitely proven it in many ways with Chip, obviously across many different disciplines in auto racing,” Dixon said.

Last week, Roger Penske’s return to sports cars was celebrated and The Captain earned the spotlight for the precision of his operation (and the fact he stayed awake the entire 24 hours). But it was Ganassi’s team that put on a clinic.

The two owners are rivals in IndyCar, NASCAR and now sports cars. Dixon was aware the Penske presence could be rattling to competitors. The Ganassi guys didn’t look twice. They knew they had the equipment and effort to get the job done.

“Everybody just wants to win,” Dixon said. “That’s the most simple thing: We come here each weekend to win. There’s no thinking about finishing (the race) or finishing second.”

Next up is a return trip to Daytona for the start of NASCAR’s season. A month after that, IndyCar begins and Ganassi’s calendar will be filled with racing.

“I don’t want to sound too ambitious here, but I will tell you that I think the team is certainly poised to do well across all sectors,” Ganassi said.

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.