You could say July was busy for the Ganassi team, and over the weekend of July 9-10, we had four cars in the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Toronto, the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates cars were at Kentucky; and the Grand-Am Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team was at Laguna Seca.
Tim Keene runs the Grand-Am program, and if neither Chip nor I are able to be at their races physically, we can certainly depend on our version of TK and his guys to do what's right for everybody. Tim has been with us since he tried to back over Chip at Nazareth with the transporter. He represents our culture. We're fortunate that with planes and because the Rolex Series often races on a Saturday, we can often join them. However, given that IndyCar was in the east and Grand-Am was way out west, we weren't able to do that this time.
The reason we're able to keep such a hectic schedule without going insane is because we just really like to race – not just the competition side but the organizational side, the strategic side and the interaction with the drivers, crews, and sponsors. When it was just an IndyCar operation in Indianapolis (although Chip had already bought a controlling stake in the NASCAR team) Chip said, “I think we ought to think about starting a sports car team and Grand-Am seems the right choice considering all our partnerships.” Initially I was somewhat resistant to that, to be perfectly candid, but I found out that by having multiple programs going on – assuming they're managed correctly – you learn so much, because everyone shares. It helps you with racecraft and technology crossover to see it from a variety of different perspectives. You quickly realize that there's still so much to learn!
So, having the Grand-Am team has been hugely beneficial. I know there are teams that run a variety of programs who are not successful, and who have to go back and rebuild. But in our case, Chip gives everybody everything they need to succeed to it's up to us to make it work.
Another great aspect of the breadth of Chip's operation is the team spirit that it invokes. All three arms of CGR watch each others' races: I'm getting texts from our Cup guys all the time, because they're paying such close attention and asking questions. If our races don't directly conflict, they're asking for real detailed information – “Why did you pit on that lap, or why didn't you pit? What adjustments did you just make?” and so on. But it's best of all when I get to all the races, and really see how much they value the preparation side of racing as much as the racing itself.
Obviously, Wayne Taylor's group at SunTrust Racing has upped their performance significantly to close up on us in the Grand-Am championship, and it was great that Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas got those wins at Road America and New Jersey to pull a gap again. The thing is, we never ever sit on our hands – we never underestimate the opposition, and the challenges in Grand-Am have been brewing for years. It's not just SunTrust, either, as we saw when Bob Stallings' team won at Laguna Seca. There's a core group there who compete against you hammer and tong, race in, race out, and they all have amazing desire and drive to be successful.
When we're lucky enough to win a race, we know how hard it is, and though we've won a lot of races, it means that you've beaten great race teams. When we first joined, wow, they stuck it to us pretty good! We had to learn how to race in that arena, and it took us a while to understand the long-distance races. We were terrible at those in the beginning – not for lack of trying, but not knowing how to be fully prepared. Although your actual duties and racecraft is the same from the shorter to the longer races, it demands a different mentality from everyone on the team. Our group labored hard together to iron out those wrinkles.
One of this year's challenges for our TELMEX Grand-Am guys has been the switch to Continental tires, because different manufacturers will create tires that behave in a different way. To race well, the consistency for a long run creates the track position for the end of the race, and that's what takes time to get right with a new tire. So whenever they tweak their tires, we have to tweak the setup.
Another challenge is Grand-Am's constant endeavor to equalize the performance of the cars. It's something you have to work hard to overcome because every time you think you've got it figured out, they come back and squeeze you harder. But it's the right thing to do, in my opinion. Sometimes we're on the wrong end – like now there are rules that we feel favor a couple of manufacturers over BMW – but we don't worry because we're confident Grand-Am will fix it. We just continue to work hard on our product for the long-term.
On the IndyCar side, with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, we work equally hard on consistency. If we have a consistently competitive product with really good people involved, it's the best opportunity to win big races followed by championships. That's what we try to do. It is a team sport, it's not just about individuals, like say, golf or tennis; it's about the skills and experience you have as a team. Combining cohesive people with an experienced tandem like a Dario or a Scott, continues to feed the product to get the results needed. So some days when you finish third and fifth, like Scott and Dario did in Iowa, it's not what you set out to do – but guess what? You gave it everything and so did the drivers, and that's as good as we were that night. (That pass that Marco put on Dario and then TK, by the way, was worth the price of admission!) But what helps is that inner confidence in our product that we'll come back even stronger at the next race. We did, and scored a 1-2 in Toronto.
I've said it before: if you put a team together and they win together, it's a lot easier to win the next one. People help each other, mentor each other to win, and we're really lucky that we've had resource in place for a long time with an owner who's aggressively competitive to push us to do that. That makes a massive difference. It's defining.