Ingram's Flat Spot On
Ganassi's Scores Hat Trick, Again
by Jonathan Ingram
A Tasmanian triple and a "Chiple" inevitably caught the eye this weekend in U.S. motor racing, in addition to another dramatic crash, this one in the American Le Mans Series.
The "Chiple" occurred when Chip Ganassi's teams won races in each of three major series and the Tasmanian triple when Marcos Ambrose pulled off a third straight win at Watkins Glen in the Nationwide Series race.
"Pickett's Charge" into the Turn 4 tire wall at Mid-Ohio, meanwhile, put both the Team CytoSport Porsche Spyder on the sidelines in Saturday's ALMS race as well as driver Greg Pickett. The former Trans-Am champion, aged 63, discovered a fractured lower lumbar and some broken ribs after walking into a hospital a day following his practice crash.
Despite an inaugural victory by Dyson's Lola-Mazda, the absence of Pickett's Porsche left Highcroft Racing's David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud well in charge of the LMP championship versus Pickett's co-driver Klaus Graf. No doubt, the team is receiving quite a few calls from drivers, but the one they should be making is to Butch Leitzinger. The latter was left on the sidelines by Dyson Racing and has experience in the Porsche Spyder, not to mention a world of talent.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who faced the most opposition of any of the three Ganassi winners, got the Sprint Cup victory in Watins Glen, where most of the opposition came from Ambrose.
Earlier in the week, much of the resistance at the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing hauler occupied by the No. 42 Target Chevy team seemed to be coming from within. But when the team owner sat down Montoya with Crew Chief Brian Pattie in what is often referred to in the NASCAR business as a "come to Jesus" meeting without any disrespect toward religion, the kinks from bitter losses at Indianapolis and Pocono seemed to get worked out.
Not the case for Ambrose and Crew Chief Frankie Kerr. You'd think that after they had won the Nationwide race on Saturday at the Glen, they'd all be on the same page for Sunday's main event and a potential double by the man from Down Under. But not so.
After finishing second to a letter-perfect Montoya in the Sprint Cup event, the Aussie allowed that his faster car's handling disappeared as a result of his last trip to the JTG/Daugherty pits. He pulled a "Montoya" and basically gave up towards the end as if to emphasize the point, slipping to third place. (In the opinion of race winner Montoya, the Aussie over-worked his car early in the race.)
Earlier in the week, Ambrose, no longer the perennial smiler questioned the carburetor settings designed for better fuel mileage on his Little Debbie's Toyota and how it increased the difficulty of driving the Sprint Cup car. He hit the same subject after the race, as if still fighting the lost battle at the Infineon Raceway where an effort to save fuel backfired and the team lost a near-certain victory.
For his part, Kerr made it clear at Watkins Glen that should it be necessary for his driver to shut off the motor and re-start the car to save fuel that it was a simple procedure. And, he didn't change the carburetor settings.
From all appearances, both of these guys are still blaming each other for the Infineon debacle. (According to an insider, the biggest problem at Sonoma was that the crew chief asked the driver to do something while leading the race that the team had never practiced or tried before.)
Prior to the Glen, Ambrose had already decided to take a walkabout and look elsewhere for employment next year, possibly at Richard Petty Motorsports. That's one way to keep the strings tight on the competitive instrument, because it motivates the driver to show what he can do for a future employer and motivates the team to show what it can do for sponsors -- which may or may not leave with the driver.
This set-up ran into a headwind. Montoya was picture perfect, even letting Ambrose past at one point without too much challenge before re-taking the lead on a re-start. Having offered sarcastic remarks about pit strategy at Indianapolis and Pocono, the brilliant Colombian road racer's response at the Glen was a pleasant surprise. Maybe Ganassi knows what's up after all and it's not just a lucky stab that he finally ended up with three victories on one weekend following the hauler pep talk.
At the Glen on Saturday evening in the Rolex Series event and at Mid-Ohio's IZOD IndyCar race on Sunday afternoon, it was the pit crews of Chip Ganassi Racing that got the job done when it came to getting into the lead and victory lane. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas thus captured a record-tying seventh Rolex Series victory this year and Dario Franchitti slammed the door on the toes of his main rival for the championship, Will Power, who was second.
Did his teams and crews know that Ganassi had another shot at another triple this weekend after his Daytona-Indy-Brickyard score of two weeks ago? Seems so.
Don't look now, but the Italian via Scotland is poised to overtake Power in the latter portion of the IndyCar season when the man from Toowoomba has to return to the high-speed ovals. If you had to pick between these two when it comes to the best combination of given name and sir name currently competing in motor racing, it would be hard to choose between them. But on ovals, one would have to choose Franchitti to make up 41 points or more. The race at Infineon in less than a fortnight preceding the home stretch on ovals should be interesting.
At least Power clinched the first Mario Andretti Trophy offered by IndyCar for the best season on road and street circuits with one race to go in the twisty part of the schedule. (But Mario retains the all-time best racing name.) Power has come a long way from the days of crashing annually from the pole at his home track in Surfer's Paradise and then the broken back suffered last year when collected by an accident at Infineon.
Given that Australian Mark Webber currently leads the Formula One championship and that Ambrose and Power have become straws that help stir the drink in America's two most prominent racing series, it would seem that Down Under is on the upward swing in motor racing. This is not to short change Brabham, whose stellar career in sports cars continues. It's kind of a surprise that the all knowing, swami-like Ganassi doesn't employ any Aussie drivers.
It was an irresistible urge to check Sunday night's box scores for how the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Ganassi used to be a part owner, did on the ash wood bat and horsehide spheroid circuit Sunday. The Pirates lost 8-4. Statistically, this means nothing. But over-all, if you're competing in American racing it appears to be better if Ganassi's in your house -- or hauler -- rather than the one next door.
Quote of the Week: "Yesterday it was all about making sure everybody is on the same page, everybody has to do their job, and we came out today and everybody executed. It's something Brian keeps saying: 'Keep saving the car, keep saving the car, keep saving the car.' And it paid off."
Juan Pablo Montoya commenting on the influence of the Saturday meeting with team owner Chip Ganassi and Crew Chief Brian Pattie on Sunday's race at Watkins Glen, where he saved his brakes until the final run to the checkered flag, when he psychologically demolished Marcos Ambrose by moving away to a big lead.
See ya! ...At the races.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com