Kiel on Ganassi: “Total focus is on winning… and it shows”
Former Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel has been confirmed as Chip Ganassi Racing’s new team manager and explained, “You think, ‘Man, they’re doing something right and I want to know what that is!’”
Kiel announced his departure from AMSP just 10 days after the final round of the 2022 NTT IndyCar season. His decision concluded a near 15-year term at a team which, when he started, was known as Sam Schmidt Motorsports and was better known for its Indy Lights success. Most recently, he helped turn the team into regular podium contenders and race winners, as McLaren’s involvement increased. He also called Pato O’Ward’s race strategies, and the young Mexican prodigy started earning pole positions and victories.
Kiel’s move to Chip Ganassi Racing came at the conclusion of a season that featured considerable friction between AMSP and CGR, as McLaren CEO Zak Brown thought he had a deal with Ganassi’s 2021 champion Alex Palou, only to discover that the Spanish ace legally could not be extracted from his current ride. Brown was able to sign Tony Kanaan, Ganassi’s Indy 500 ‘extra’, for a similar role with AMSP at next year’s 107th running of the Memorial Day Weekend classic, but the other TK is happy and proud to have moved in the opposite direction.
Kiel told Motorsport.com: “It’s taken some adjustment because the reality is that I’ve spent my entire career effectively working for and building an organization I was very comfortable with, and now I’ve got to start from scratch and learn new things – new processes, new ways of working, learning who to go to for certain matters, those types of things.
“But it’s cool, and a lot of people here have helped make it a comfortable transition. It’s something I’m looking forward to because it’s a new challenge.
“And I was looking for that new challenge. There is something nice about being in one place for your whole professional life but there’s also something nice about learning new things and being part of something different, and when you look at the two scenarios, one was a racing organization that is in a lot of different series but they’re all in different locations, run by different people and are very separate from each other. At Chip Ganassi Racing, everyone is under one roof and there’s a tremendous amount of collaboration and information-sharing both technically and operationally, and the total focus is on winning.
“And it shows. You walk past the transporters and you’re reminded that they have 14 IndyCar championships, and that doesn’t count the five Indy 500s, the IMSA championships… You think, ‘Man, they’re doing something right and I want to know what that is!’ So it’s a really great opportunity and it wasn’t for one particular reason that I moved. It wasn’t that I was fed up at AMSP or anything like that. It was a combination of things that led to the decision.”
Asked if there were differences that he had already noted between the two teams, Kiel paused before stating: “You walk in the front doors of this place and there’s a certain amount of pride, just walking in the lobby and seeing the trophies and the heritage of this team. Not a lot of people talk about it but you look at the record of Chip Ganassi Racing over the last 20 or 30 years, and it’s unmatched. Team Penske’s had a lot of success but from the championship point of view, from a global racing point of view, Ganassi has done a lot and you see that on full display. Not only does this team talk about it, they actually do it.
“And then the other thing is that the communication and collaboration is really good and is done at a really high level. There’s a ton of continuity here, a lot of experience. For me personally, there has been a starting-from-scratch mentality, where you’re constantly trying to get to the top and make aggressive moves to scale up. Then when you walk in an organization like this one, it’s a step up. There’s a lot of built-in expectation here and you see that in the type of people that work here and the type of work that they do. It’s a really well-oiled machine.
Following his move to Ganassi, Kiel will likely switch from communicating strategy for last year's Indy 500 runner-up to calling the shots for the race winner.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
“But the flipside of that, and it’s actually a similarity to my previous team, is that it is also a warm, close-knit culture here. That’s something I was very proud of at AMSP – we always kept things very open and honest and transparent and we encouraged any opportunity that we could to bring the team together. That’s no different here, which I think is quite unique for a large racing organization, and to my mind it’s really critical to our success. When the going gets tough, as it so often does in motorsport, it’s those bonds and that chemistry that keeps everyone together and high-achieving. I think that’s part of why they’re doing so well.”
Kiel described Ganassi’s legendary IndyCar arm of the squad as his “first order of business” in his new role, but adds that he’ll also be “monitoring how the IMSA team is doing things and how the Extreme E team is doing things”. He adds: “Primary focus is on IndyCar because that’s where my expertise lies but I’ve got the opportunity to look at our other teams as well.”
Although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, Kiel said it is “probably the obvious answer” that he will become Marcus Ericsson’s strategist, as the previous team member filling that role, Mike O’Gara, has moved across to head up the Cadillac LMDh program, which will see one Ganassi-run LMDh-V.R competing full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the other in the World Endurance Championship. Associated Press’s Jenna Fryer tweeted today that the #48 CGR-Honda formerly occupied by Jimmie Johnson will become the #11 in 2023, but Kiel would only confirm that there will still be a fourth full-time CGR IndyCar entry because “there are a lot of really good people on that program and we don’t want them to go anywhere.”
Similarly, Kiel confirmed that Ross Bunnell has arrived from Dale Coyne Racing, where he engineered David Malukas, but wouldn’t state that he will be, as speculated here last week, Scott Dixon’s new race engineer.
Kiel scotched the idea that his arrival at Ganassi as team manager was the start of a fade into retirement for his stepfather and managing director Mike Hull.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon,” laughed Kiel. “He’s very much invested in what’s going on here, as he should be. I’ve got a unique perspective, in that I’ve been involved in a from-the-ground-up build and he helped do something similar here 30-something years ago. He’s still in the office every day, still very active, and this is a hugely important part of his life.
“One interesting thing is that we never previously really talked about work because we were competitors in our professional lives, so we kept things very much above board in that respect. It’s now interesting to understand how he goes about his day-to-day, what he works on, what his team works on, what the focus areas are, etc. That’s been really cool.
“But to your point, he’s still very much involved and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
Photo by: Chip Ganassi Racing
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