Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull will be blogging for RACER.com throughout the racing season.
Let's say from the start, it's hard for me to predict anything because I can't even win on a five-dollar lotto ticket! What can be said is this: Every time we win a race, I'm always left scared that we're never going to win another one. That might sound a bit funny, a little Stephen King-ish, especially with Chip Ganassi Racing's record, but I come away thinking, “It's time to reset, as we've got to work even harder to win another race, because our closest rivals are energized to make sure it doesn't happen again!”
They say the harder you work, the luckier you get, so my prediction for the season ahead is that the people who work really hard when combined with an unselfish team ethic and with luck stirred into it, are going to win the championship. Race drivers win races, while cohesive teams of people win championships and I think that's what we all have to work hardest to achieve.
In a season of new cars and new engines, maybe people have the impression that big teams will adapt quicker to change because their resource is deeper. Certainly if we find a problem, we can react quicker to fix it. But in reality, with the rules as restrictive as they are in terms of where we can put our hands, this may not be totally true. So a lot of it comes down to effort, and a roll of the dice as we're still finding items that these days go back to IndyCar and then to Dallara for updates. In prior years, teams upgraded and solved durability issues more quickly on their own.
For instance, the new DW12 has altered pit stops for a variety of reasons, so we started practicing stops from the moment we had a car in the CGR building. If speed and consistency on track are givens among the top teams, then pit lane efficiency is what will make the difference.
And so, over the last 45 days, all four of our teams have practiced stops every time one of our drivers came in the pits. We went to the Homestead road track last week with the Nos. 9 and 10 cars while our 38 and 83 cars went to Barber along with a lot of others. Barber would have been better from a pure learning stand point for the Target cars, but without other cars at Homestead, we practiced doing long full-tank runs and “live” pit stops to get a real feel for the revisions to the pit lane and fuel tank rules without the risk of being stopped by other cars sliding off and bringing out the yellows!
Next, the tire allocation will be different this year and the DW12's fuel cell is smaller, so at most races there's going to be an extra stop compared with last year. That's why tire management and fuel strategy – combined with pit lane slickness from your over-the-wall crew guys – could well be the determining factor in the outcome of some of these races. And I think that's good, because people want to see pit stops, order changes and more strategic changes. (I hope the TV commentators can keep up with it all! Remember Long Beach in '98, when TV totally missed Alex Zanardi until the very end!)
The shape of the new car has meant the air jack location has moved from the side of the car to the rear, so the air jack operator is under the center of the rear wing, the guys fitting the rear wheels have got less hand-space around the diameter of the wheel because of the shape of the sidepod and the rear fenders, and the refueler has a bit more of an obstacle course to get to the fuel buckeye on the side of the car. During our test at Homestead, our refuelers weren't spat out the side of the car and no one was entangled in the revised air hose location, so we're proud that our crews have worked hard to be fast and efficient.