What Charlie and his engineer Brad Goldberg did over the winter was analyze that how he practices relates to where he qualifies, races, and finishes. They figured out that what Charlie needed to do was practice faster, so then he was confident when he needed to push ultra-hard in qualifying. They worked with the entire team to build confidence quicker and also how what a car felt like when the tires were old at the end of a practice session corresponded to how it would feel and what needed to be done to the car when it was on a set of brand new alternate-compound tires for qualifying.
That analysis has started to pay dividends. Charlie loves numbers and stats. Sometimes that leads to paralysis, but instead it's helping him. And the fact that it's taken until his third season to feel so confident is not a reflection on Charlie; it's more to the point made earlier. These young guys aren't getting track time away from the race weekend, so they're doing all their learning in practice, qualifying and the races. Rookies make errors and always will, but currently they do it when it really matters, so they're punished hard and judged harshly, and you have to hope that doesn't stymie the mental side and leave them lacking in confidence or packing-up with unrealized potential. At Chip Ganassi Racing, we understand that patience is required now that it's tougher for rookies than ever before, and Charlie is proving that our patience has paid off.
Turning to the Grand-Am Rolex Series, we fully support the long-term goals of the sanctioning body and believe they have the best interests of the sport in mind. Do they treat everyone fairly? Not always. But I like the fact that Grand-Am's goal is to create the best racing. And they certainly make it work: it is fierce competition! Its on-track product is real wheel-to-wheel stuff.
In terms of where we stand with our TELMEX BMW-Riley package, I'd like to see some of the other teams' race our car and try to figure out what they think our advantage is. That would be fun for all the teams to swap packages for the weekend and see who won. If you believe that everything is equalized by the sanctioning body, then it wouldn't matter. Of course it would never happen, but it might quiet those who think we have – or have been allowed – an advantage in terms of equipment.
If you look at the Daytona 24 Hours, there were great teams and driver combinations. You certainly couldn't say we dominated. The keys to our No. 01 car's victory, apart from being very well prepared, were that 1) Juan Pablo Montoya raced well within himself; 2) Both our cars were really good at crucial segments of the track; 60 percent of that track is high-speed, but our cars were really good through the entire infield, and in how deep we continued to carry speed into the braking zones. And 3) we weren't afraid to tune our cars according to varied track conditions at each stop, nor were we afraid to put in the car those who we considered the best drivers for the appropriate times of the race.
I think that a lack of selfishness also won us that race because Scott Pruett, although he was really fast, told Timmy Keene [No. 01 team manager] that we should have Juan in the car at the end of the race because he was in better condition. Scott's feet and ankles were bothering him, legacy of that huge shunt back in 1990. A lot of race drivers wouldn't have been that unselfish, and Scott's sector times were so good that I think we could have won anyway. But that race-smart thinking with a complete lack of ego, meant Scott wanted to give the team what he felt was its best option. It certainly demonstrates the team spirit that pervades TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
I'd also like to counteract the accusation that we deliberately caused a full-course yellow period with the No. 02 car in order to benefit the 01 car for its scheduled brake change. I think it's pretty hard to determine at exactly what point on the racetrack the bolts that hold the output flange from the transmission to the driveshaft assembly are going to shear and precisely where! But eight of the 12 bolts sheared, so the car no longer had drive. Where were we supposed to go when it stopped?
With five hours to go in the race and only two laps down, No. 02 was trying to get back on the lead lap and hopefully score a 1-2 TELMEX/Target Team finish. We didn't want to drop the car further back; actually, it was faster than the No. 01 car at that point. Having two strong entries has given us a terrific opportunity at Daytona over the years. Who would have ever thought that a bunch of open-wheel guys would get that chance?
Looking at NASCAR, I think the team has strong cars; the Gen6 Chevrolet is a good racing machine. There's been a bit of a transition in terms of people on our team, but they're good quality people, and the cars have shown good speed. The Chevy engine program is now really, really good and I think Max Jones is doing a fine job of making that blend work, between new cars, new staff.
I think there will be effectively two seasons of NASCAR, because as teams learn the Gen6 car, they will make big steps, and that will result in a transformation from what we're seeing at the moment. That's when we will see our capability. Juan has been strong at every event this year, while Jamie McMurray with the same equipment and support is in the top 10 in the points standings.
NASCAR is like any other form of racing: each driver is unique, each car is unique, and each setup is unique. It's how you manage the process, the integration of the human elements and mechanical elements that defines your success or failure. What Penske proved last year is that the team concept in NASCAR works extremely well, where each person unselfishly supports the next. You then have a baseline to work through the process, and that's more important than the number of cars on a team.
Don't get me wrong, having more than two cars on a team can be a benefit if you have every single part of that third or fourth crew working well and working well within the team structure, but having a third car with a less than complete budget, or with a less than great driver or with a crew that isn't functioning to 100 percent of its capability, would be more harmful than beneficial. So what Roger has and what Chip has is a two-car team that functions as well or better than a less cohesive three or four car team.
Now, the Indy 500 is approaching. It's unique as we're granted seven full on-track practice days prior to the qualifying weekend. It does allow the non full-season entries an equal opportunity to be ready for race day, so let's welcome Ryan Briscoe back to Chip Ganassi Racing for the Indianapolis 500.
Several weeks prior to doing actually getting it done, we thought we had a sponsor to do Indianapolis, so talked to Ryan, but it didn't happen. Everything does happen for a reason, and not long ago, Chip said: “Is Ryan still available?” I said, “I don't know, but I can find out.” When we discovered he was still available, Chip said, “Let's do it.” So now we have a great driver in Ryan, a great sponsor in NTT DATA, with a great engine partner in Honda. Firestone is equally excited about having the Indy pole-sitter from last year back on track.
Ryan has experience, he's a proven race winner; knows how to read the racetrack; understands how to work in a team atmosphere; and, so it's very exciting to have him once again driving for us. The team itself represents internal partnership also as, due to a non-conflicting Grand-Am schedule, our entire Rolex Series team will support the car. Andy Brown, who works for us with our R&D group, will be Ryan's chief engineer – a position where he has a lot of quality experience. All done in-house, which we think, defines our brand.
First of all, though, our IndyCar group wants to catch up with the TELMEX's wins at Daytona and Road Atlanta with a win of their own at Sao Paulo. Looking forward to the race there: if you ever have the chance to see global passion and electricity in person from the IndyCar fan base in the Southern Hemisphere, it's worth the trip.
Thanks for reading.