Chip Ganassi Managing Director Mike Hull joins RACER's blogging crew this year to relate what goes into creating what you see on the track. -Ed.
Thanks for joining me for my first blog for RACER.com. We're hoping that 2011 will be as strong for Chip Ganassi Racing as 2010 – but it's going to be very hard.
Grand-Am Rolex Series
Our first success of the year couldn't have come earlier: the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. When we go into that event, because of our track record, a lot of people regard Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates as one of the favorites. So how do you get yourself fired up? Well, while some talk about trying to get to another level, we try to get to another platform. Each year, we get ourselves into the mindset that (a) we want to do it again, and (b) we'll do everything we can to make ourselves better at how we do it. That's the bigger picture way of looking at it. As a group, we've proven we know how to do it, so doing it in a better manner than before becomes the new aim. So this year, when we scored a 1-2, we were all very proud.
After the race was over, Chip and I didn't say anything for a moment and then I said, “Do you realize, we've finished second three years in a row here?” and when you finish second, you want to win. Doing both is hard to achieve in motorsports, so it's very special for the people involved in making it happen. All the people at Chip Ganassi Racing were passionate motorsports enthusiasts when we were young and have remained fans all our lives. We enjoy watching racing all around the world, so to score a 1-2 in one of the world's prestigious motorsports events is something that really means so much to us all.
Tim Keene made a different call than some of the other front runners regarding tire strategy, and ultimately the No. 01 guys – Scott, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand – were our winners. In racing, you make decisions based on where you are at that moment in time, and you're working the race backward from the finish. The 01 car got a penalty for hitting a tire in pit lane, so they had some options they could employ on pit strategy toward the end. They could just go to the end of the fuel load as usual and live with the result and hope there's a full-course caution. What they did instead was calculate what it would mean in terms of track position when they came in, the amount of time the stop would take, the lap time they'd need to achieve in a long run, and they chose that strategy. Hand drove the lap times necessary to give Pruett a car on the stop with interval necessary to win.
There were three or four other strong cars that were on a conventional strategy, one of which was our No. 02 car. So we were lucky to have two different strategies going at the end of the race, which is something you always want to have.
Of course, with the late yellow – the very
late yellow – it gave Scott Dixon in the No. 02 car a prime opportunity to fight for the lead. At Chip Ganassi Racing, we have a rule that is discussed before every race begins: Don't run into your teammate! It's simple. You can race as hard as you want and no one on the team will have a problem with that, but if we're in sequence, we have to help each other. That is the extent of our team orders.
I don't know if there had been conspiracy theories floating around, but there were comments from a couple of journalists down in Florida along the lines of, “Well, you had Scott Dixon protecting Scott Pruett.” In fact, because Joey had hit a tire in the 01's pit stop, we were forced into different strategies and had no way of protecting one guy with the other guy. Had Dixon been in front in the final stages, he would have won, not Pruett. The fact is, this is Dixon's 10th year at Ganassi, and he knows not only how to win but also how to support his teammate. Looking back at how he raced in Homestead in last year's IndyCar finale, we knew he'd be the last person who'd take out the other Ganassi car.
In Homestead for the first of the Rolex sprint races, it was tough – there was a lot of talk about the difficulty of keeping tires under the car for a stint, but the reality is that is the challenge in all forms of racing. The team and driver that work together to manage the tires better than the rest of the field, give themselves the best opportunity at the end. That's what our 01 guys did at Homestead – a classic/textbook win. The Continental group took some heat from a performance standpoint, but giving it some perspective, I didn't see anywhere in print that there were zero tire failures. That's a major accomplishment for a new tire supplier.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Obviously, the race at Daytona this year caused quite a stir, not just because of the remarkable performance by a rookie to reach Victory Lane, but also because of the unusual pack formations we saw out there, where the drivers discovered that traveling in two-car convoys was the quickest way…by far.
I think we're spoiled when it comes to NASCAR racing, because, without blowing smoke here, NASCAR's people – and I mean the sanctioning body – do a really good job keeping us engaged. As we watch pack racing at Talladega and Daytona, our expectation as fans is that was what we're going to see again, so anything less than that is regarded as a disappointment. The circumstances could not be corrected during Speed Weeks, so a lot of the teams and teammates just worked really hard with the parameter that were set to try to win the race.