Chip Ganassi Racing will enter Portland International Raceway this weekend with an NTT IndyCar Series championship outlook that is completely unprecedented and also totally familiar.
Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou remain within striking distance of points leader Will Power with two races remaining – the first time in Ganassi’s vaunted history that the organization has been this deep in the season with three title-eligible cars. Team Penske also has three title-eligible drivers (Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin) but for the second time in five years (Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud duked it out in 2017).
While winning 14 championships (including six by Dixon) over the past 32 years, Ganassi has had dynamic duos of contenders (Alex Zanardi/Jimmy Vasser, Dixon/Dan Wheldon, Dixon/Dario Franchitti) yet never a trio gunning for the crown so far into the closing stretch.
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It naturally prompts the question: Without being able to prioritize resources or staff toward just one or two entries (and while also fielding the No. 48 Dallara-Honda of Jimmie Johnson), how does preparing three championship-caliber cars impact the workload at Ganassi’s Indianapolis shop?
“It doesn’t,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “That’s not the case for us and never has been. It gets all the way back to the very beginning for me with Chip.”
Just two races remain in the NTT @INDYCAR SERIES season, and four drivers are separated by just 17 points!
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 21, 2022
Shortly after being hired by team owner Chip Ganassi to manage competition for two cars in 1992, Hull said the team’s top-down directive of standardization over specialization was evident.
“Even if we were building test parts, we had to make sure we built two of everything for both cars,” Hull said. “Chip said not one driver is going to get anything different than the other driver. And in some cases when you’re building test parts, you only want to build one set. But that was not the case with him.
“That is followed through with everything that we’ve done here from Indianapolis whether it’s been IndyCar, sports car or anything else that we have done. We’ve always made sure if we can only have it for one car, we’re not going to do it. And Chip’s belief, and it’s right, is if every driver and every team member feels that everyone is equal, then it’s easier to be unselfish with the share. And we’re lucky because we have an assemblage of people that have grown up in that system that mentor the younger people that are working here that understand that’s how we operate. We accept that as commonplace today. We don’t question that. We don’t worry about it.”
The drivers seem unworried, too – even despite (or perhaps because of) a season marred by several weeks of contract strife.
Palou, the defending series champion and race winner at Portland, has been embroiled in a lawsuit with Ganassi over his future
But in the six races since announcing he was leaving for McLaren Racing, the Spaniard has remained competitive. And even though his remote access to Ganassi data and engineering has been restricted, Palou is confident he will have the same chance at the title as Dixon and Ericsson.
“One hundred percent,” Palou said after finishing third at Nashville (where he also had a brief postrace conversation with Ganassi). “I think there’s a lot going on, but at the end of the day, Chip would be super happy if we win the championship. He wants one of his cars to win the championship. We cannot all three win, but he wants one car to win. I don’t think I’m getting less stuff or not so much attention than others. Yeah, I think we have a fair shot for sure.”
Said Dixon: “We’re here to win. Everybody is trying to win. That’s what I’ve always loved about this team. Obviously, this is a strange situation, and it hasn’t changed for Chip. The prerace meetings are the same, and all of our cars are trying to win this championship. I know Alex is trying to win this championship as much as he can. It’s in his best interest to, as it is all of ours. Yeah, some stuff gets a bit awkward here and there, but we’re all here to win. That makes it pretty simple.”
The IndyCar rulebook also simplifies Ganassi’s quest for equality across its four cars.
Since the introduction of the DW12 Dallara a decade ago, IndyCar has used a common chassis. Five years ago, the implementation of universal aero kits made the series even more “spec” and increased standardization by further reducing suppliers. (NASCAR took a similar direction this season with the Next Gen car.)
“I think you see that in other forms of motorsports besides IndyCar, and what’s happened is the sanctioning bodies have tightened up the spec of the cars so they’re much closer together than they ever were,” Hull said. “They’re no longer specific to the team. The cars are more spec, it’s more specific to the series.
“So because of that, the more information you have, even though the information is almost finite. It helps you climb the grid together, much more effectively than it used to. So what happens with teams like Chip Ganassi Racing is they value the input from the intellectual property that the car creates, and then the unselfish interchange between the drivers and engineering group and the managers to run those cars. It goes all the way from the very first track walk to the last lap of the race.”
Though there might be benefits from running an organization in lockstep across four cars, Hull admitted keeping the team in line can be problematic because “racing people are competitive, and they’re trying to gain an advantage all the time.”
Despite the spec limits, the team still can build some aerodynamic parts for use across all four cars. Ganassi is diligent about measuring their effectiveness on track and making those results immediately transparent through internal wireless communications.
“If we think it’s the right configuration, but a driver goes out on track and says, ‘Well, that doesn’t work for me, and I’m not going to tell anybody,’ well, we don’t do it that way,” Hull said. “We make sure everybody understands we tried something, and we’ll explain why it didn’t work. It’s not filtered, and we don’t hold anything back from each other.
“What we try to do is reinforce the fact that our advantage is gained by working together and not separating ourselves.”