IRL: Chip Ganassi IndyCar press conference

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Oct. 7, 2003 Chip Ganassi K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, October 7. Today we will visit with two IRL IndyCar Series owners whose ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Oct. 7, 2003

Chip Ganassi

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, October 7. Today we will visit with two IRL IndyCar Series owners whose teams are involved in the IndyCar Series points chase, they being Chip Ganassi and John Barnes.

Joining us first is Chip Ganassi. He's the owner of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which fields the No. 9 and No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone cars for Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter, respectively. Dixon is tied with Helio Castroneves for the IndyCar Series points lead as we head into the season-finale at Texas this weekend with each driver having 467 points. Chip, good morning and thanks for joining us today.

C. Ganassi: Good morning, Kent. How are you?

K. Johnson: Doing very good, Chip. To start with, let's talk about Team Target this year. You have put together quite a team. Between Dixon and Scheckter, your team has accounted for three wins and seven pole positions over the 15 races thus far. And, you have to like your chances at winning the championship heading into this weekend.

C. Ganassi: Well, we do, Kent. I mean, obviously, we had that in our sights at the beginning of the season. And for a while there, at the beginning of the season, it was feast or famine for us. We had some awful heartbreaking DNF's, if you will. Most notably, we had a car challenge at Indianapolis, which sort of sticks out in my mind. And then, later in the year at Joliet, we had some car problems, so we had some little sort of niggling problems that really felt at one point were taking us out of the championship with Scott. But, now we are, obviously, right in the thick of it again.

K. Johnson: Is it a situation where you feel that, hey, a break here or there, and I know that's racing, but you could already be celebrating?

C. Ganassi: Boy, I'll tell you, I mean, we certainly left a lot of points laying on the table, that's for sure.

K. Johnson: Some teams seem to have the hot setup come race day. Others seem to have a knack for qualifying. But Team Target is always at the front in both qualifying and race-day trim. To what can you attribute this consistency?

C. Ganassi: Well, I think a lot of it has to do -- I've been fortunate over the years to have some great people work with us on the teams. So many times, the owner or the driver gets a lot of the accolades, but it's really in the trenches that are there week in and week out. And, we are fortunate in our engineering staff and our management and the people that are actually working on the cars. We have had a lot of consistency over the years with our teams in Indianapolis, and it is sort of like a building block process, if you will. We have a strong foundation with a great sponsor, and that gives us the ability to keep and maintain good people over the years.

K. Johnson: Now, looking ahead a little bit, you can head into the winter months knowing that your driver lineup is set for next year. You announced Tony Renna as an addition to your team this past week. Tell us a little bit about how you came to the decision to add Tony to the lineup, as well as the timing of this announcement.

C. Ganassi: Well, it was just a situation of, we had an option on our current driver, Tomas, and we are fans of Tomas, and he has done a great job for us, and we couldn't come to an agreement that we were happy with. Not to say that we are unhappy. And, Tomas did a great job and we wanted to continue with him. We just weren't able to put something together that we were happy with, so we decided to go another direction.

Q: Chip, you are going to Texas where it is going to be an absolute crapshoot, probably, in the last few laps. Do you like the idea that you have gone through this whole season and, probably, it is going to come down to that last pit segment?

C. Ganassi: Well, you know, Curt, I think that is one of the exciting things about the series. We don't know. And, anybody that tells you they do know is obviously not telling the truth. So, I think that's good. I mean, let's face it, we have been in the series, and are in series today, where the championship is already tied up, or they are tied up early in the season. I mean, what a better way to cap off the season than to be coming down to the race and have four or five people eligible to win the championship? I mean, that is a feather in the cap for the point system and for the series itself, I think. I mean, I obviously would rather have a 200-point lead right now, but that's not to be. And, like I said, I am certainly happy we are in it, and we certainly want to be the guys to close it out this weekend. But, it sure makes a good race for the fans, and the people that are interested in IndyCar Series racing, for sure.

Q: If you look at the other guys that are in this, does Hornish's role here really concern you, here over the last few weeks what he has done? Does that concern you going into the championship? I mean, obviously, your confidence is in Scott or even Helio given his experience in this league. Anybody else really scare you in terms of, scare may not be the right word, but --?

C. Ganassi: I don't think, no. I don't look at it in terms of being scared. If Sam wins the race, I think we have to be fourth or better, or whatever, and we keep everybody else behind us. That doesn't seem to be a problem for Scott, so if you can't finish at the front in Texas, you probably don't deserve the win the championship, I would think. As it turns out, you are not going to be able to. Whoever is going to win it is going to have to be at the front, depending on who it is and where they are. But, the point being you have to be at the front.

Q: Back in Nashville, when the announcement came out about the Chevrolet Gen IV, the new engine put forth, that Panther got first and everybody, you know the history. There were a lot of mixed emotions. Now that it's come down to the last race, and all of a sudden the Panther team is in the mix, what are your thoughts about the engine rule change of mid-season?

C. Ganassi: Well, you know this business is about, from my point of view, putting components together that you can win with, whether it is an engine package, a tire, a car, a driver, or people -- crew chiefs, managers, engines. You have this package. And, we don't seem to have a problem with the other Chevrolet runners as much as we do with Panther. So, that's a feather in their cap from a team point of view. So, I look at it more from a team point of view than I do a particular component of the team. So, I am not as overly concerned with the Chevrolet engine as much as I am with Panther Racing, I would say. It is the teams at this level; it is not the components.

Q: And, let's talk about Scott for a moment, because when you sit down and you talk with him, he just seems so laid back. Yet, when he gets in the race car and pulls that shield down, it's like he becomes another guy. Talk about him as a driver.

C. Ganassi: You know, he's one of these guys, as an owner, you really like. He's got no baggage, he presses the button, he works hard on Friday and Saturday and then he works hard on Sunday, also. You know, you have some drivers that are qualifiers, and you have some guys that are racers. He is one of the few guys I have seen in this industry that is, certainly, the complete package. And, he is a professional on the track and off the track. Doesn't seem to get in any squabbles. I think he's certainly the prototypical person you would like to have if you were starting with a clean sheet of paper.

Q: When you started with the clean sheet of paper at the beginning of the season with him, and I asked him this a couple of weeks ago, did you think he could win the championship in his first year?

C. Ganassi: Well, we certainly felt like he has a lot of momentum on his side. Scott has been around awhile in these big horsepower, open-wheeled cars, and whether it was in the CART championship or in IRL here, I mean, he has had a lot of momentum. And, that momentum has been building for over a year now. So, he did a good job for us in Denver, he did a good job for us in Miami last year. So, coming into the season this year, we knew he could do the job, and it was just a matter of us giving him the car to do it with.

Q: Team Target Ganassi is one of the top, if not the top, team in many forms of racing. There would seem to be an absolute plethora of drivers who would love to race with you in any of those series. Now, how was it that you and Tony Renna came together?

C. Ganassi: Again, he is a guy that so oftentimes in this business you see these young people that have all the prerequisites, if you will, but haven't necessarily been given the right tools in their toolbox. And, I think Tony is one of those guys. He's got an extensive background whether it is in oval track racing, road racing. There are quarter midgets, midgets, Indy Lights. He's got plenty of big horsepower experience with the IRL cars. He's been in and around good teams, and he's always been that platoon guy who just hasn't had a breakout kind of year. And I think he is ripe for that right now.

Q: An ancillary question, I understand you are going to be going to sports car racing next year?

C. Ganassi: That's another press conference there. That's a rumor right now, but yeah, the rumor is looking like it's becoming more and more true.

Q: You've had some enormous success in picking drivers. Now you've picked Tony, which says a lot to him. Go to your back room and pick some parts off the shelf that would create this perfect driver, or at least a driver that Chip Ganassi would choose to put in one of his cars.

C. Ganassi: Well, you know, everybody always talks about how we pick the drivers and what have you. And, I have had some failures too, so I'm not without my mistakes, as well. You know, so many of these young people today in these series, I mean, they have to be hungry. They have to be hungry and they have to show the heart and the commitment to the sport. So many people today -- these drivers, I question whether we handle any professional athlete today. It's somewhat different than it was 20 years ago. It's a more complex world today. I don't care if you're in racing or you're in baseball or football or any of the major league sports today, it's a tall order to be a professional athlete. We see all the trappings, if you will, of big-time professional sports. And some guys can handle it and some can't. The people that I see work at it, and the ones I like to work with are the ones that are hungry and they really want -- they're a student of the sport, if you will. They aren't interested in all the trappings. The people we seem to do well with are the ones that aren't interested in the profiling of it all, the glamour of it. I want the guys who are more interested in the technical side, more interested in trying to improve themselves and improve the team and being a team player. And have the commitment to what it takes to be a great athlete. Those are the guys I like.

Q: Would you have hired Chip Ganassi, the driver, to drive the Chip Ganassi race car?

C. Ganassi: That's a good question. I don't know. When I was driving, I relied more on my natural ability, and I didn't work hard at it as much as I should have. And, knowing what I know now, looking back, certainly, I should have worked a lot harder at it because it is a great life being a driver. And, I wish I was good enough to still be a driver, to tell you the truth.

Q: When you look back on those times as a driver, do you see where, maybe, you can look at this person and look in his eyes and say that was me or that wasn't me? Or, that's what I liked about me, or that's what I don't think should have been there as a driver, so I know what to expect of this guy, maybe, a year or a year and a half into his contract?

C. Ganassi: Well, I think, certainly, that is a part of it. Fortunately, I have had a lot of experience, now, over so many years of having so many different drivers, I probably don't look in myself so much. But I do think I have a little better connection with these drivers than most owners because I have driven for such a long time. But I think that's a big part of it, but, certainly there are other factors that you look into. I never consider myself one of the top-level drivers. I guess I was probably in the B-plus category or something. Or A-minus, probably B-plus. The problem is, our team is an A-plus team so we are only looking for the A-plus drivers today. I have to look for people that have more talent than I did when I was a driver.

Q: I like you clarifying that.

C. Ganassi: Did I do a good job on that? Did I clarify that?

Q: I think B-plus was optimistic, but people keep bugging me with the notion that you might run a third car next year. Any truth to that, or any possibility of that at this point?

C. Ganassi: You know, right now, I wouldn't say it's on the burner. I mean, I would never say never, but right now, if you were to ask me today, the answer is no.

Q: Thanks.

Q: You know you were talking about -- I remember when you came in from Duquesne, I think it was in 1982, as a driver. What convinced you, when your career was over as a driver, that you wanted to become an owner? You could have done so many other things in life. The owner thing sometimes is a job that can do down the tube.

C. Ganassi: Well, I remember one thing, one time. I couldn't imagine why anybody would want to own one of those cars. But, you get involved in the sport and there are so many great aspects about being involved in sports these days. It's not just, necessarily, the participation in the sport. When you are a driver, you are a high-profile participant, but there are many other things I find enjoying or enriching about being involved. I mean, obviously, we have talked about the great people involved in the sport or the -- I guess I just like the idea. Ultimately, at the end of the day I like the competition. I like the fact that it's not a regional sport per se, it's something that's involved in the more national or international scope. And, I like being involved with and interacting with the companies involved and the sponsors. I like the business aspect of it all. It seems to bring a lot of things together in life that you'd like to mix together, whether it's the competition, or big business, or the sports side of it, the athlete side of it -- sort of bringing all those together is what I find fun.

Q: Well, you know, last year you put together two young drivers, virtually the same age. Did a competition develop between those two, and do you expect the same competition next year with Renna coming in?

C. Ganassi: You know, that's a good question, because a lot of times when you have guys -- I think while there's not a spoken competition between the two, there is an unspoken one. And, a lot of times that can have an effect on somebody, and it's unfortunate when one guy is not as fast as another guy, or something like that. It's unfortunate that things work out that way, albeit for a couple of times Tomas fell out of races or whatever. He was headed for some fairly good finishes for our team this year. And, for one reason or another, they were not happening through no fault of his. So, it's just unfortunate, sometimes, the way the sport makes it turn or someone's career can make a turn and, really, with situations that are completely out of your own control. But, I think competition among a team is healthy. But, at the same time, we don't have a number-one or a number-two driver. We like to have two number ones.

Q: What all entails with you as far as team sponsorship? Regardless of where you race, NASCAR, CART, and now the IRL, do you have a full staff that goes after people, basically? A sales staff? Or, do you just concentrate basically on one thing and not a sales staff?

C. Ganassi: Well, we certainly have a sales staff that is out working with the sponsors, day in and day out, and I probably lean to that side of the business these days. Let's face it, the first thing about being in the racing business is you want to win. But, certainly right up there with wanting to win is we want to be in business, too. So, there is always a balancing act of we have to make some money, but we have to spend all we can to win races, too. So, it's a delicate balance of those two items.

Q: I understand that there may be a central place where you'll bring your NASCAR crew and your IRL crew into, at least the same building.

C. Ganassi: No, there's no truth to that. We just built a new building in Indianapolis about three years ago. They're staying right where they are. And, the NASCAR team, we're just about to begin construction of the new facility there in Charlotte, so that will be just strictly for them. So, they're separate and they're going to stay separate as far out as I can see.

Q: Okay. As a former driver, do you ever get the itch? Not competing, but to get into one of the cars and just see what it's like again?

C. Ganassi: I do. And that earlier question there, I think I certainly like to look back fondly at my driving days. But I am 45 years old now, so I don't.

Q: You're still young.

C. Ganassi: Yeah (laughing).

Q: Well, good luck coming up this weekend.

C. Ganassi: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

K. Johnson: Well, Chip, we appreciate you coming on this morning, and congratulations on a strong run so far this season and the best of luck next weekend down at Texas Motor Speedway.

C. Ganassi: Okay, thank you, Kent. I appreciate it.

John Barnes IndyCar press conference

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Renna , Chip Ganassi , John Barnes
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing