Fontana, Calif., Oct. 29 -- At the California Speedway Friday, Chip Ganassi announced he has signed a three-year agreement with Toyota. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing will race Toyota engines for the next three years after four seasons with Honda ...
Fontana, Calif., Oct. 29 -- At the California Speedway Friday, Chip Ganassi announced he has signed a three-year agreement with Toyota. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing will race Toyota engines for the next three years after four seasons with Honda engines. Ganassi's team has won the last three PPG Cup titles and Honda has claimed three of the last four CART Manufacturers Championships.
"I think it's time to change the package," Ganassi commented. "We've all been monitoring the Toyota program and I have to tell you I think they're ready to win and I want to be the one to bring them to the winner's circle.
"Making this decision was a long, involved process," Ganassi said. "But I'm happy with the decision. I've never seen a hunger to want to win from any manufacturer that I've seen from Toyota. They're constantly upgrading their people, and I felt they were the team to be with. I'm pumped up about it and I'm sure we're going to continue to win races."
Ganassi was asked what it was that convinced him Toyota would be able to compete with Honda next year. "It's an intangible," he responded. "It's the hunger I see in their attitude and in their eyes. They're making a huge effort in this formula and I like the effort I'm seeing and the people they've acquired over the past two years. I've been over to their facility in Japan and looked in their eyes and there's no doubt in my mind the commitment's there."
The three-time champion team owner reflected on his pending separation from Honda. "When we started to run Honda engines we were very fortunate to have Honda be part of our team through the next four years," Ganassi remarked. "This is not about a bad job. Honda does a great job and I agree they are the number-one engine right now. From Day One, my association with Honda has been great. This is not about anything Honda had to match. It's about a new program, about staying on the leading edge. As you can imagine, leaving Honda is one of the most difficult decision I've ever made."
Lee White, group vice-president and program manager of TRD, Toyota's California-based race engine development center, said he believes Toyota can win races next year with Ganassi's team.
"We've made tremendous progress over the past two years," White said. "We had to convince Chip that the product we were going to put into his cars was the best. Or new RV8E engine is a nuclear-tipped, armor-piercing weapon and in 2000 we absolutely intend to kick the door open. It will sit on poles next year, and I guarantee you it will win races."
White said Toyota would supply as many as seven cars next year. "At this point I can tell you for sure we'll have four cars and there's the potential to run six cars and a chance of seven," White commented. "By the rules, we're obligated to supply seven cars, just like any other manufacturer. That's what we're planning to do.
"I expect to see cars powered by our engines other than Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in the top five regularly next year," White added.
White said a development version of next year's RV8E engine has raced three times this year and finished all three races. White added that the engine has also run, 'several' 500-mile tests at Toyota's test track in Japan. "The power is far above where we wanted to be," he noted.
Suggestions that Ganassi will expand to two teams and run as many as four cars next year were refuted by the three-time champion owner. "Right now, those are just rumors," Ganassi commented. "Don't take any bets that you'll see four cars with my names on them next year."
Other rumors claim Ganassi will be paid as little as $20 million and as much as $40 million by Toyota. "I don't think I've ever shown my team is financially motivated," Ganassi responded.
Ganassi also replied to repeated rumors that Juan Montoya will leave his team to drive in Formula One for Williams next year. Sources in Europe, Colombia and the United States claim Frank Williams has decided to buy Alex Zanardi out of the second year of his contract and bring Montoya in to replace him.
"Why wouldn't he want to stay with a successful team and successful engine?" Ganassi asked.
Ganassi's first Toyota-powered Reynard 2KI should be ready for testing a few days before Christmas. The team's first chassis is expected to arrive in the United States on December 3rd and will be tested for the first time after two or three weeks of final fettling and preparation. -- Gordon Kirby Back
Thanks to Gordon Kirby and Racer Communications Inc.