Chip Ganassi says his team is trying to find a way to run a fourth IndyCar entry in 2016 but it needs to be fully funded, and is unlikely to be an Indy 500-only deal.
Following the termination of Chip Ganassi Racing's deal with Sage Karam, who shared the No. 8 car with Sebastian Saavedra in 2015, some had assumed the team lineup next year would be down to incumbents Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball. However, a fourth car remains a possibility, according to both Ganassi and managing director Mike Hull.
The reigning IndyCar champion team owner told Motorsport.com: “If the right deal came along, we’d take a look at it, and we’re actually working hard to do that now. But the deal has to be right… and my preference is not an Indy 500-only one-off.
Hull added: “We’ve been lucky the last few years that thanks to our IMSA program, we’ve had the depth where we can assemble a full team of people who know how to go racing – and a lot of our IMSA personnel are ex-IndyCar. So when there has been an opening for us to run an extra car at Indy, we’ve had team members who are strong enough and well-trained enough to pitch in with that extra entry and represent the Chip Ganassi Racing team program.”
However, Ganassi pointed out: “I’m not sure the one-off entry is viable. Those people who we normally have ready to pitch in will be getting ready to take the Ford GT to Le Mans.”
Both Ganassi and Hull remained cagey on the subject of CGR entries in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Speculation is rife that as well as the works Ford GTs, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team will also defend their overall win with the one or more Riley-Ford EcoBoost Daytona Prototypes. While it is believed that Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray will indeed team up in the No. 02 DP, there’s still a question mark over the second one.
Hull said: “Racing with Ford is a big deal, and winning the race last year was awesome. The fact it was with two IndyCar drivers and two NASCAR drivers was, to me, the best part. We have two teams of people ready to do GTs this year… but one of the blessings of having IndyCar end its season as early as it did is that our IndyCar personnel, as a group, have been able to work on getting a Prototype ready – perhaps two – for Daytona.”
Ganassi laughed, “That’s a great non-answer!”
Most teams, and most vocal fans, have expressed anger over the past two years with the Boston Consulting Group’s advice to IndyCar to avoid clashing dates with the National Football League, which traditionally starts its season the first weekend of September. When the Verizon IndyCar Series faithfully heeded this advice and lost the Brazilian round in mid-March, it meant the 2015 season spanned just five months.
Ganassi told Motorsport.com, “You know I’ve been screaming about that for years. All it does is make teams available to do other things, like we’re doing, and it takes the focus away from IndyCar. That’s not good for the series.”
When Hull joked, “I haven’t seen Boston Consulting Group mentioned for a while; maybe they don’t work during the NFL season either,” Ganassi added, “No, they wouldn’t allow themselves to compete with the NFL…”
The light-hearted tone to the conversation did not disguise the serious points Ganassi and Hull were making. Asked what IndyCar could learn from the governing bodies of the other series in which Chip Ganassi Racing is involved, Hull stated: “IndyCar needs to be more positive about itself, and people within IndyCar like us teams, drivers and journalists, also need to be more positive about it.
“We labor ourselves with our thoughts on the schedule, the rules and so on – but the reality is that the core model of IndyCar has always been about the great competition. That needs to be conveyed to the younger audience so we have a fanbase that’s deeper than it currently is.
“I don’t know that they have the right people running IndyCar racing, I don’t know they have the wrong people either. They just have to be motivated to change the business model. They’ve made incremental strides, but we need to get to the next level – and we’ll only do that as a group.”
Ganassi reflected: “I think IndyCar needs greater depth. They certainly have some decent people in place, but they’ve got to get more. At the operations and corporate level, they don’t just need bench-players; I’m not even sure they have the number of players on the field that they need to have, much less bench players.”
Ganassi also expressed frustration that the team owners don’t have enough say in the way the sport is run nor its future direction.
He remarked: “They like to point to CART being run by the team owners and say, ‘Well look how CART ended up.’ I’m not sure history has anything to do with it. I think we all need to work together as one group – IndyCar and its teams – to make this thing better. But it seems to me that any time the teams make a suggestion, the sanctioning body does the complete opposite.”
Content with Chevrolet
Ganassi caused surprise in the IndyCar paddock back in October 2013 when, despite team lynchpin Scott Dixon heading for championship glory with Honda power, Chip announced his squad was switching to Chevrolets the following season. Given that Chevy has powered the last two champions (the latest of which has been Dixon again), and that Honda suffered well publicized struggles with its new-for-2015 aero kit, Ganassi expressed contentment with his decision.
“That’s two years ago, so it’s hard to remember everything that was driving that decision,” he said. “We had a good relationship with Honda, but we also have a good relationship with Chevrolet, and we like to believe that we as a team could enjoy success with a lot of different manufacturers.
“We feel honored that any OEM wants to do business with us; otherwise I’d have to get a real job some day!
“But I’d say Jim Campbell [U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports] and Mark Reuss [President of GM North America] played a big part in us switching, knowing the quality of work they put on track. They’re quality guys and that’s what you need in this business. it’s as important who you’re doing it with as it is what you’re doing. You’ve got to be working with people who share your values, thought processes, drive and goals.”
In reference to the controversial Rule 9.3 which saw IndyCar allow Honda to close up the perceived performance gap to Chevrolet by developing more areas of its aero kit in this off-season, Ganassi admitted he was frustrated, if not surprised. He remains convinced that the teams and drivers involved helped amplify the difference between the two aero kits.
“It’s water under the bridge now, but I’m not convinced Honda had the aerodynamic problems that some claimed they had,” he remarked. “That became a tool to control a certain agenda. In my opinion, the top teams in any sport have a wealth of knowledge that isn’t available to everyone.”
Hull further endorsed the Ganassi team’s faith in Chevrolet’s products.
He said: “We’ll do testing February, but I don’t regard that as late, no. Based on Chevrolet’s track record, their attention to detail in the virtual world pays off so their products are good by the time they hit the race track.”