IRL: Hull steers this ship

IRL: Hull steers this ship

Target Chip Ganassi Racing marches into each race track like an army, with almost military precision in setting up its tents and preparing for battle. Accustomed to success in almost every discipline, there's a certain swagger to this ...

Target Chip Ganassi Racing marches into each race track like an army, with almost military precision in setting up its tents and preparing for battle. Accustomed to success in almost every discipline, there's a certain swagger to this group.

There's also a fine appreciation for the art of racing and the nuances needed to get to the top of this game. Chalk it up to teamwork of the highest order. That kind of cohesiveness has to come from the top. And it does.

Scott Dixon and Mike Hull.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
It takes a certain demeanor to get along with volatile owner Chip Ganassi. But whatever else he may do, Ganassi manages to make some of the best personnel choices in the business. An uncanny ability to find the best leaders and let them acquire the best crew personifies Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

While most of the media attention goes to Ganassi's excellent choice of drivers, there's a depth to this group that just does not happen within every race team. Take, for instance, Mike Hull.

Hull has served as managing director of the entire Chip Ganassi Racing machine since 2000. The Californian has been with the north Indianapolis team since 1992 after working with Arciero Racing, Patrick Racing, Hayhoe Racing in CART. Hull also did time in Super Vee and Indy Lights.

At the very least, the quiet, genial Hull exudes an air of confidence in everything he does with Ganassi's many enterprises, which includes dual entries for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series (drivers Scott Dixon and Darren Manning), a three-car NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team of Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray and Sterling Marlin and, this year a two-car Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series effort for Max Papis, Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Jimmy Morales.

That's a whale of an itinerary for most people but Hull manages to keep it all in stride. Over the past week, he's been in Phoenix for the Rolex Sports Car Series and is currently in Japan to contest the IndyCar Series' second visit to Twin Ring Motegi. It doesn't leave much time for a personal life, but Hull balances it all with aplomb.

We spoke shortly before he left for Arizona about all kinds of things, and delved into the recent Indy Racing League IndyCar Series closed test of the mandated 3-liter engine that takes over as the only power mill teams may use on the Indy car trail after this weekend's Japan Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Chevrolet/Cosworth, Honda and Toyota brought several teams to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to test the internals of the engine on April 3rd, prior to the open test the end of this month and the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Hull believes the new package "will be good for superspeedways" of 1.5- miles in length of more, but is reserving judgment until teams show up at the first short oval race in Richmond the end of June. There is no private testing permitted under current IndyCar Series rules.

Mike is happy with the brace of IRL drivers he's got for the 2004 season, but who wouldn't be? Team Target has the reigning IndyCar Series champion in Dixon, complemented by the quick and smart Briton Darren Manning, who moved over from Walker Racing's CART effort last fall.

"Scott's such a natural driver, able to drive at the limit," Hull noted. "During the test he readily noticed the lack of speed" with the IRL- mandated internal changes.

Mike Hull is pleased that Sir Frank Williams has, once again looked to this US-team and given Dixon two tests in the BMW-Williams F1 FW26 Formula One car. "Scott is looking at the opportunities available to him," chances that might not have been so available had he not landed with Ganassi's outfit.

"We always look for the most-talented drivers" on the market, he advised. "It's a compliment to our IRL and CART teams that Williams looks at our drivers. Scott is so good," he grinned, "because he's not content."

Manning is a horse of another color to Hull. "Darren is very open-minded. His self- improvement is directly related to his environment. I am impressed to see him go to driver coaches in the IRL for advice.

"With his background," Hull continued, "in Formula One and CART, drivers learn to drive so guys can never pass. Here in the IRL, the guy who's been passed can get back by," and that's been the learning process for Manning.

"Darren picked up a lot at Homestead and took those lessons with him to Phoenix. His open mind makes it easier for both us and the League" to help him progress in this sort of competition. Manning, it should be recalled was the UK's ASCAR champion at 1.5-mile Rockingham Motor Speedway's oval in Corby, England.

"Working with Darren this year is like what I did with Scott in 2003," Hull reflected. "I'm helping him with the small things, like reminding him not to get out of the throttle in a corner - or the guy behind will be in deep trouble," he laughed. "This is a development period for Darren and that's a good challenge to have."

Mike Hull relishes the challenges of working with his drivers in any discipline. "A talented driver wants to soak it up and get there," Hull reminded. A little prodding from a man who's been "there" and beyond sure doesn't hurt.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Sterling Marlin , Casey Mears , Max Papis , Scott Dixon , Scott Pruett , Jamie McMurray , Luis Diaz , Jimmy Morales , Chip Ganassi , Frank Williams , Mike Hull
Teams Williams , Chip Ganassi Racing