Hull And Cindric Will Be Sweating The Details At Homestead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 10 2009
Mike Hull is the guy who runs the show on a day-to-day basis for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

Mike Hull is the guy who runs the show on a day-to-day basis for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Attention to detail that is borderline-anal has the brain trusts of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske again matching wits today for the 2009 IndyCar Series championship.

“Quite frankly, at Chip Ganassi Racing, we are pretty simple guys and we just race races and the results come to us,” said Mike Hull, team managing director. “And that’s how we are going to race at Homestead.  We are just going to race the race. That’s how we have gotten ourselves where we are now, and we are just going to do it again.”

Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and Penske Racing’s Ryan Briscoe will decide the championship among themselves during Saturday’s Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dixon has a four-point lead over pole-sitter Franchitti, while Briscoe is eight points behind the leader.

“From our perspective, you have to be there at the end to win the championship, so you have to be smart about what you do as well,” said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing. “And yeah, I think when you look at the points and so forth, Ryan has got to beat both of those guys to have a chance to win the championship. If either guy beats Ryan, then he doesn’t win the championship. It’s really as simple as that.”

Hull and Cindric are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the open-wheel juggernauts assembled by team-owners Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, respectively. Team manager since 1996, Hull has overseen six championships – four in CART and the 2003 and 2008 IndyCar title runs of Dixon, for whom he also serves as race-day strategist. Franchitti won the 2007 IndyCar title while driving for Andretti Green Racing.

Under Cindric’s leadership, Team Penske has scored three open-wheel titles – including the 2006 IndyCar championship with Sam Hornish Jr. – and five Indianapolis 500 wins, notably this year with Helio Castroneves. Cindric also serves as race strategist for Castroneves, the three-time/reigning Indy 500 champion.

Franchitti’s racing resume features successful stints with Team Green in CART and AGR in IndyCar since 1998. Following an ill-fated foray into NASCAR with Ganassi’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide series organizations in 2008, Franchitti returned to IndyCar at the invitation of “The Chipster.”

“Having been with Team Green and then AGR for 10 years, I got to know the team there very well,” said Franchitti, who qualified the No. 10 Dallara/Honda on-pole with a four-lap average of 212.696 mph. “I think the Target team is definitely cut from the same quality. The big difference that separates the successful teams from maybe the not-so-successful – some of it is budget for sure. But it’s attention to detail. Attention to detail on the small things. These guys, they focus on every single aspect of what it takes to win races and championships. And as a driver, they push you to do the same thing.”

Dixon, who will start second after qualifying the No. 9 car at 212.160 mph, is well-versed in the methods of Ganassi’s management style.

“It is attention to detail,” said Dixon, a 29-year-old native of New Zealand. “It’s not one or two big things. It’s 50 small things. That’s what I think the team does every day when they go into work or after a race weekend. First they look at how we performed, and then the next part of it is to really (determine) how they can better the cars and make things work better, obviously be quicker. So they’re constantly looking ahead, where some teams try to maintain. That’s not how you’re going to come out with the ultimate performance.”

Briscoe, who is seeking his first IndyCar title, has driven for both super teams. Briscoe spent the 2005 season with TCGR in Indianapolis before a long and winding road returned him to the series last year fulltime with “The Captain” in Mooresville, N.C.

“I just think that both are first-class teams and they put a lot into every aspect of the game,” said Briscoe, who will start third today after qualifying the No. 6 car at 212.137 mph. “From pit stop practice, the crews are first-class, (and) the engineering department on both teams is what is most important to both of them.

“I think that the confidence each team has to go at each weekend and win races and the experience that each team has…it all adds up. There are definitely a lot of similarities between the two teams.”

The similarities include a human element from core employees whose organizations often are viewed as robotic. “I know we are going to be nervous,” Hull said, “and I know it’s going to bother us and I know there’s going to be butterflies and I know that we have to remind ourselves or pinch ourselves to breathe a little bit.”

Franchitti earned his fifth Peak Performance Pole Award of the season, third on an oval in 2009 and 11th overall in his IndyCar career on Friday. The 36-year-old Scotsman’s previous oval poles this season were scored at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Richmond International Raceway.

Friday’s session also marked the third time this season that Target Twins Franchitti and Dixon have swept the front row during qualifying. Franchitti won pole and Dixon was second at RIR, while Dixon won pole with Franchitti second at Kentucky Motor Speedway. Friday’s pole also was the 28th in the series for TCGR drivers.

“In terms of having our two guys run for a championship, it’s a great position to be in to have two chances,” Hull said. “And I don’t know how you separate the two people we have as teammates because they drive as one. We have been around some special people in our racing lives here at Chip Ganassi Racing over the years of two-driver teams. These two, in terms of being unselfish, are probably the best two we have ever had. And they share everything equally, and I think that creates the opportunity for us at Homestead.”

With Castroneves mathematically eliminated from the title chase, Penske’s hopes ride with Briscoe, the 28-year-old Australian who has qualified fourth or better in nine of 10 oval events this season. (Briscoe qualified seventh on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval). Incidentally, the only other time Briscoe qualified third on an oval this season – at Kentucky – he won the race.

“Like I said,” Cindric said, “our situation is a lot clearer in terms of how we have to approach it. But you can’t get desperate, especially early-on in the race, because I think that you almost have to always expect the unexpected. Because I think there’s a lot of people that are just expecting the four red and white cars (of Ganassi and Penske) to be the ones sitting there mixing it up.”

From paddock to pit road to points standings, the Ganassi and Penske teams have come to define the term “professional rivalry” in the Indy Racing League since 2002.

“Although Mike yells at me once in awhile, I think the key to that really is watching not what Mike and I talk about, or what the drivers look at each other and talk about,” Cindric said. “It’s more I think you can see it through the body language of the teams. I think that over the years of racing each other and being in that close proximity, especially in those pit boxes, you watch Ricky Davis (Dixon’s chief mechanic) and Rick Rinaman (Castroneves’ chief mechanic) and those kind of guys that are leading their peers there – those are the ones that have a pretty huge mutual respect for one another. They know what it takes to compete at this level.”

Hull noted that Ganassi, his enigmatic boss, relishes the challenge of competing against the best in IndyCar, NASCAR and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car series.

“I think you aspire to race with the best people,” Hull reiterated. “And with the way that our pits are chosen for us presently, we are racing against a team in Penske Racing that – in my estimation – is the best team in racing. And as Tim said, you get to see everybody first-hand. You see what happens. And our guys practice and practice and practice and practice to be the best, and I think if we knew how many hours the Penske guys logged, I bet it would be pretty close to the same.

“So, it’s enjoyable to race with them. And in terms of being next to them, that’s where we want to be.”

The other factor today is the 1.5-mile HMS oval, a series fixture since 2001. Today’s 200-lapper marks the first time the season-ender has been staged on the track famous for its 18-20-degree variable banking through the turns.

“Quite frankly, you don’t want it to be a typical IRL ‘gladiator race,’ ” Hull said. “Because when you’re racing for a championship, obviously you want to be able to first of all race with the people you’re racing with, and secondly, with a little bit of separation, you want to be able to race with track position.

“But I’m not so sure that’s going to be the case. I think it’s going to be a close, tight race, and we are not just racing against ourselves. We are racing against some of the best people in the world in IndyCar Racing.

“What you try to do is you try to get the most out of the day, and that’s what we have proved. Guess what, we have got a chance to win a championship. And so that’s really the most important thing.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 10 2009
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