Chip's team manager on CGR's first day testing Ford's 2016 Le Mans challenger at Daytona
Chip Ganassi Racing started testing the Ford GT at Daytona International Speedway today, and Motorsport.com caught up with team manager Mike Hull for his early assessment. As a man who’s been through several “new-car” tests in his 25 years at Ganassi, Hull’s words display the wisdom of experience.
Can you tell us how much you’ve done so far?
What we did today is an extension of what Multimatic has already done, which is a big help, and they’ve been running in parallel. What we have is the first production racecar, a product of what they’ve done with the R&D car. So it has things built into it that are retro-fitted into their car as they’ve gone along with the testing. So it’s the latest spec and it’s a nicely finished piece – Multimatic do a terrific job, and in the not too distant future we’ll have another two or three of them.
It was our first day, although our guys have been part of the testing with Multimatic. As it’s been every time we’ve tested a new car down the years, the first day for us is all about being overly cautious and making sure everything is correct before the car finds the racetrack. And when it does, we spend a lot of time and attention on all the small things that could catch you out.
We did a fair amount of running today – it’s a two-day test – and this was all about short runs and understanding the tuning parameters of the car. We want to know aerodynamically and mechanically what this car needs. We need to verify the aero on the racetrack. We have to understand how the driver’s driving style matches up with what the car “says” it wants!
And which drivers are participating at the moment?
Joey Hand and Scott Pruett are both here. We just concentrated on Joey today – we thought focusing on one driver was the best thing for us to do. Tomorrow we’ll have each of them in the car.
Has the Ford EcoBoost engine proven reliable?
Yes, and I think one of the greatest things about the program is that the engine that we’re running is the same engine, architecturally, as we’ve been running for the past two seasons in the Riley Daytona Prototype. And not only the engine is the same; the systems and accessories that feed the engine the lubrication and water etc. are the same too. The turbos, the intercoolers, the exhaust system, the electronics, etc – they’ve all been run and developed for two years. It’s not as if we won’t improve in those areas, but we’ve got a great starting point.
What’s Joey been saying about the car’s handling?
Well, we didn’t scare him to death today, so that’s good! We found that we could very effectively change the balance of the car, and that’s really what we wanted to discover and achieve today. I think the Ford GT had a fairly conservative setup built in for most of the day, and then we headed down the path of trying to tweak a few things to find out what the car does and doesn’t like. First day, pretty good.
The Michelin tires – are they unique to the Ford GT or are they the same spec as found on other GT cars?
I think they will become unique to this car. At the moment, we’re on a very moderate baseline tire but they are here to help us, and as time goes on we’ll work on tire development with them. It’s really nice to know they know all the characteristics of the Le Mans track, and I think we’ll also have a wet-tire program going on, and they’ll definitely be helpful in that area, too.
So in terms of first day of testing, would you say this has been an encouraging day? You’ve seen a few “first days” in 25 years with Chip Ganassi Racing…
Yes, encouraging is the right word. We’re well aware this is a big challenge, a big undertaking, and we’re going into this eyes wide open. It’s fun to do this, and I don’t mean that in a cavalier manner at all – it is hard work! But it’s really cool to be working with technology that is different than what we’ve been doing. And this category of racing is exciting because of that – all our rivals have very technologically advanced vehicles and then you combine that with really terrific top teams and top race drivers, that’s what a really special category. We’ve tried to do this for a while so to finally get the opportunity is great.
Who’s going to be assigned to this project from the Ganassi lineup?
Well all our IMSA team are former open-wheel guys, every one of them, so that’s a good situation to be in. And the people that are working with the GT now are the people that have been working on the DP car for the past couple years. But we will add people to the program now who have open-wheel experience and we’ll have key positions on the inside that we’ll fill internally, and hire from outside to fill in the blanks. That’s how we’ve always done it when we’ve added a program because it gives our people a great opportunity to be promoted. They’re already prepared to do the job but also already prepared within the Ganassi culture.
What’s after this?
We test next at Sebring, long course, and that’s a three-day test. Our test there will be more about long-distance runs for the first time. So we’re creeping up on this, brick by brick. After that will be a four-day test.
At the launch of the Ford GT in June, Chip was very bullish about the car’s chances of clinching class victory at Le Mans. “We’re here to win, Ford are here to win…” etc. Judging by the progress made so far, do you believe that you can take on the Corvettes, Astons and Ferraris as soon as next year?
I think it’s a huge challenge – no more or less than any of the other challenges we face, but with a specific uniqueness, just like the others have. Our operational mode has been simply to work through today and try and get the most out of today. That’s the way we’ll approach each day, and not try and get too far ahead of ourselves.
Racing big races, or big championships, you cannot approach it with the attitude, “We’re gonna show those guys what we’re all about.” It’s about the process, and that’s about prioritizing and having each team member getting the best out of each day we’re given. That’s how we have and will continue to approach this.