How IndyCar’s Chip Ganassi Racing is handling the COVID-19 shutdown


The sudden halt to all sports activity has affected every team, from winners and losers to big teams and small. That also is the case in the NTT IndyCar Series as teams are in the middle of a two-week shutdown because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Last week, looked at how the smaller teams were being impacted. These are teams such as A.J. Foyt Racing and Dale Coyne Racing. Those operations have smaller budgets and less personnel.

But this health crisis is also impacting IndyCar’s bigger teams, too.

Chip Ganassi owns one of the best teams in the NTT IndyCar Series, and its success brings more resources, more personnel and a larger payroll.

Mike O’Gara is team manager at Chip Ganassi Racing and talked Friday with about its plan for handling the shutdown and the uncertainty of when the sport (and life) will return to a semblance of normalcy.

“The plan is to open on Monday, March 30 with a limited number of people to continue our Indy 500 prep and go from there,” O’Gara told “That, of course, can change, but as of Friday, that is our goal.

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“Chip’s No. 1 priority is the safety of the family and employees. We made the call (March 13) to shut down the shop for this week. The team asked everybody to stay home, take care of their families and themselves. We are going to do that again this week, as well.

“Right now, the plan is to be back in the shop on March 30 with some form of crew. We are going to limit the numbers and respect the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in terms of social distancing. We will have the bare minimum in the shop and try to keep pushing forward with whatever race we will have next. Right now, that’s the IndyCar GP and the Indy 500, but that could change in a moment’s time, as you know.

“Our world is changing by the minute right now. But, we’re somewhat safe and sane right now.”

Driver Scott Dixon — Getty Images

While employees remain home, some are able to work remotely on their computers. Management is in daily contact with the crew. Barry Wanser is another team manager, John Huffman runs the machine shop, Nick Ford is in charge of the carbon shop, and Chris Simmons is the performance director at CGR.

The team has been using video chats and phone calls to remain in contact with all crew members.

“Pushing forward with work is one thing but making sure of all our employees, taking care of their well-being is important right now,” O’Gara explained. “It’s interesting in tough times, we have survived racing through 9/11, and now we are surviving through this. It brings out some interesting sides of people.

“It has shown this week just how much Chip cares for his people. He could have cut all of our pay or made us come to work. Chip hasn’t done that. He has said, ‘Be at home, take care of our families and we’ll worry about the racing when we need to.’ That’s the cool thing about Chip. I’m not sure all team owners share the mentality of that.”

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Most importantly, Ganassi (as with other teams) is continuing to pay employees during this unexpected stoppage. But if the season extends into November or even December, vacation time may have to be adjusted to finish up the season.

“Who knows what the end of the season will look like? We’re in the same boat,” O’Gara said. “If we have to race through November, we may have to ask some people to work when they would normally be on vacation. We will worry about that when we have to and pay everyone now and keep everyone as comfortable as we can until we know what the heck is going on.”

CGR managing director Mike Hull has been in contact with IndyCar President Jay Frye throughout this break. According to O’Gara, IndyCar is working with Firestone and track promoters to help teams throughout this process.

“The last official word I received from Mike Hull was we were still going to run the IndyCar GP (on May 9) and the Indy 500 (on May 24) as planned,” O’Gara said. “Nothing to my knowledge has been changed on that.”

Of course, that could change depending on the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a crucial week as more states are issuing “shelter in place” and self-isolation orders. As more citizens get tested, the number of positive cases likely will soar.

If social distancing is effective, that could slow the rate of infection while potential vaccines and medicine can be tested, produced and distributed.

Driver Felix Rosenqvist — Getty Images

IndyCar remains committed to running as complete a schedule as possible. That could mean more doubleheader weekends or adding a few races to the end of the schedule. None of that has been officially determined as IndyCar continues to review its options.

O’Gara is confident that if there are five-, six- or seven-straight race weekends, the teams can meet the grueling schedule.

What makes IndyCar different from NASCAR and its long stretch of races is teams have a limited number of cars. Each IndyCar “tub” is used on street courses, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways. Most teams have two cars per driver with an extra car or two in the shop for some of the bigger teams.

NASCAR teams often have a car for each race.

“We feel like we can make it happen,” O’Gara said of the increased demand if races are scheduled for many weekends in a row. “Our No. 1 priority is making sure when we can come back racing, that everyone is healthy.

“The big point for us right now is to follow CDC and local governments advice to stay healthy. If we do have to do eight straight weeks of racing, we have to be prepared. We don’t have any extra guys. We have some stay-home people, but when we come to the race track, we are there with the minimum number of people. If any of those guys go down, we are going to be scrambling to find people.

“We are equipped staffing wise, now it is making sure everybody is healthy.”

Chip Ganassi Racing is also looking at the physical and mental well-being of its crewmembers. Chris Snyder is in charge of the team’s workout program at the shop. With team members at home, Snyder has devised a workout program, even if they don’t have weight or workout machines.

“He has challenges, step-number challenges, stretching and other things to keep some normalcy in life,” O’Gara said. “Chris is trying to keep them physically ready to hit the ground running when we can come back to work.

“The other things that we believe is an important tool is helping them with their mental health, as well. He has been sending suggestions and reading and podcasts and audiobooks and YouTube videos on things like relaxation techniques and meditation and mindfulness.

“We feel it is important for the over-the-wall guys to perform well, but also in this crazy time when you are stuck at home for a long time you made need it whether you are going over the wall or not. It’s to help you relax and focus. Chris has been a huge help this week keeping the guys feeling like they are still part of the team, even though they aren’t coming into the shop every day.

“If everyone is getting up in the day and doing the same workout, even if it is in their basement or their spare bedroom, it keeps that sense of teamwork rolling, even though they can’t see each other every day.”

If the season had continued as scheduled without the COVID-19 pandemic, the 104th Indianapolis 500 would have been the sixth race of the season. That would have given teams ample time to figure out the changes to the car with the addition of the aeroscreen.

If the season starts with the Indy 500, teams will have to learn on the fly.

“This week, we have been working hard on what we can still do to try to learn,” O’Gara said. “We have very limited track time with the aeroscreen, especially on the ovals. Teams can’t test, we can’t go to test posts to run our simulations. We can’t even go on the Honda simulator because that has been deemed off-limits right now by IndyCar. It’s a matter of using the data and the knowledge that we have and hopefully, being prepared better than the next guy.

“It does level the playing field for smaller teams like Dale Coyne or Dreyer & Reinbold. They have as much potential of winning that race as we do.

Driver Marcus Ericsson — Getty Images

“From that aspect, it will be exciting. Also, the limited amount of track time we will have leading up to that race. The teams with the most open minds and are most nimble are going to be the ones to beat at the end of May at the 500. Hopefully, we are putting ourselves in that position as well, but these small teams are we are racing against are going to be right there, too.”

Chip Ganassi Racing is located on the northwest side of Indianapolis in Pike Township. It is a massive facility that is very clean and organized on a normal basis.

Steps have been taken to make it even cleaner during the shutdown and when crewmembers return to work.

“Gary Rovazzini has been with us for 30 years and is heading up our shop cleanliness program,” O’Gara said. “With everyone out of there, he has had crews come in deep cleaning everything. When we do come to work on March 30, we are working on procedures for crews to come in during shifts and breaks in times to wipe things off. Guys are being required to wash their hands frequently and wear gloves as much as possible. In engineering, we are going to practice social distancing. We have a large shop. We can have a couple guys in each department safely separated from each other. According to the CDC rules, we think we will be in compliance and keep everyone safe.”

It has also given teams a completely new perspective in a very short period of time.

“It’s a crazy time,” O’Gara said. “Just thinking about where we were a week ago, thinking we would be on track at St. Pete to now, thinking about what the best hand sanitizer is to give our guys at the shop.

“It’s a crazy time.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA

Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

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All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”