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Ganassi Won’t Mess With Winning Formula

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 14 2010

Chip Ganassi is happy with the way his IZOD IndyCar Series operation is structured. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Despite a list of high-profile free-agents, team-owner Chip Ganassi says he likely will steer clear of adding a third driver to his IZOD IndyCar Series championship pairing of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon for the 2011 season.

“I’m perfectly happy with the two guys I have whether these free agents became available last week, last month or six months ago,” Ganassi said during a teleconference with Franchitti earlier this week. “I’m perfectly happy with the guys I have. And I doubt very much that I would do anything to dilute our team right now. Whether that’s with a…I wouldn’t think a third car is in the cards at Target Chip Ganassi Racing.”

Franchitti clinched his record-tying third title (in four years) at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2, overhauling Will Power of Team Penske by a final margin of five points. Franchitti joined Sam Hornish Jr. as the only three-time series champions, while Dixon is a two-time driving champ.

Meanwhile, IndyCar’s Silly Season is running full-bore featuring prominent players Power and Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske; former series champion Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport; former series champion Dan Wheldon of Panther Racing; Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Graham Rahal, who drove for four IndyCar teams in 2010.

Also, 22-year-old Simona de Silvestro – winner of the Tony Renna Rising Star Award –removed her name from the list of potential free-agents with her plans to return to HVM Racing and owner Keith Wiggins in 2011. The Swiss driver finished 19th in the standings _ second in the Rookie of the Year chase to Alex Lloyd of Dale Coyne Racing _ with two top-10 finishes.

“First of all, there are some great free agents out there,” Ganassi said. “None, I think, as great as the drivers I have, but nonetheless there are some great free agents out there that are available.

“Having said all that, I would be perfectly happy to have a well-funded development team of some younger guys that are on their way up that have some potential down the road if the proper sponsorship could be found. Not necessarily under the roof of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, but I think in terms of a development team, we could easily compete with a lot of these teams out there now running less than a total budget for a well-funded, front-running car.

“I think if done right, that could add to Target Chip Ganassi Racing down the road three or four years or something. The things you do now could possibly augment your team for the future. Again, having said that, it’s not something …it’s not something that’s going to make or break our organization. If our organization looks exactly the same a year from now as it does today, it won’t bother me a bit.”

Rahal, the 21-year-old son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, is positioned to end his nomadic career with a team TBD. Rahal, IndyCar’s youngest race-winner, announced at HMS that he has secured a two-year primary sponsorship/spokesperson deal with TBC Retail Group. The tire and automotive retail company does business under a variety of brands including Service Central, Tire Kingdom, National Tire and Battery, Merchant’s Tire and Auto Centers and Big O Tires.

Rahal drove for Sarah Fisher Racing, his dad’s Rahal Letterman Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Newman/Haas Racing in 2010.

For his part, Franchitti indicated a preference to remain a two-car operation with Dixon. “Yeah, absolutely,” said Franchitti, series champion in 2007, 2009 and 2010. “Scott and I work very well together. We push each other very, very hard. I’ve learned a lot from Scott. As long as I’ve been doing this, I’m still learning from my teammate. We definitely pass that information back and forward. There are things that Scott does better than me and vice versa.

“So it’s been really good. I have total confidence Chip would not do anything to upset Target Chip Ganassi Racing because he’s won a lot of championships, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s very adept to steering the ship.”

Franchitti overcame a 59-point deficit to Power during the season’s final four races, the largest margin erased by the eventual champion in that time frame. The previous best comeback was in 1996-97 when Tony Stewart (who was fourth, 42-points behind Davey Hamilton with four races to go) won the title by six points.

As a result, Franchitti became one of only five drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 (2007, 2010) and the national championship in the same season at least twice during his career. He joined A.J. Foyt Jr. (1961, 1964, 1967), Louis Meyer (1928, 1933), Wilbur Shaw (1937, 1939) and Rodger Ward (1959, 1962).

“I hear that kind of list and I hear these legends of the sport, and I don’t kind of _ I don’t feel part of that group, you know what I mean?” Franchitti said. “I’m very proud of my achievements winning the three championships and the two Indianapolis 500’s. I just feel I’m a driver who has been lucky enough to drive some great equipment and gotten the job done. But it’s a privilege to be mentioned in the same kind of sentences as those guys.”

Ganassi, whose IndyCar and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series teams clinched championships this season, said Franchitti stands out on his all-time driver roster that also includes NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

“I think Dario isn’t the…he’s not the impresario that (Alex) Zanardi was, or he’s not somebody that is referred to as blindingly fast like (Juan Pablo) Montoya was when he was in Indy-car,” Ganassi said. “But he’s always one of these guys that he’s always there when it counts. He’s always…you win championships and you win races by first finishing and then finishing first. There is a lot that goes into all of that. Dario just has a way of, I think, looking at _ he has a keen eye on the race at hand any particular weekend. But he also has his left eye on this weekend. He’s got his right eye on the goal post at the end of the year.

“I think that’s a special kind of thing that I didn’t really see in any of our other drivers. Not to mention his teammate, obviously, Scott Dixon didn’t have the kind of year that he would have liked. But there can only be one winner, and it’s good to have Dario as a bullet in your gun, as a big bullet, yeah.”

Franchitti rose to his defense, saying he wanted to give Ganassi a “hard time” over his aforementioned driver comparisons. “(Chip) was saying at the start there about (I am) not known for maybe the speed of Montoya or that kind of stuff,” Franchitti said. “But back in the day when it was Zanardi and Montoya (in CART), I was pretty much the guy to keep up with them.”

Ganassi: “He was. That’s true. I stand corrected, that’s true.”

Franchitti said part of that perception has to do with driving styles. “When you watch Montoya, it’s spectacular to watch because he’s all arms and elbows and he’s hanging on to it,” said Franchitti, who spent an aborted 2008 season as Juan Pablo’s Sprint Cup teammate for Ganassi. “My style is more sort of fluid and less movement. And it looks, even when it’s quick, it looks kind of slow, and that’s maybe I think over the years where we dominated the series. Because even times when you’re romping away from the field, it looks like we’re on a Sunday drive.

“(And) I think in some ways things have clicked. Back in the late ’90s when I first showed up, I was fighting with Zanardi, Montoya, Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Al (Unser) Jr., all those guys for wins. We never managed to tie that season together. But from 2007, it’s all just clicked. I think when you figure out how to win one of these things, you’ve kind of got that knowledge to fall back on. I’ve been very lucky again to drive great equipment both in 2007 (with Andretti Green Racing), and certainly since I’ve joined Team Target, and that all helps.

“As Chip said before, it’s a team sport. You’re not going to do it without a great teammate. And the relationship I have with the guys and especially with my engineer, Chris Simmons, and the engineering staff. That is all critical to getting the most out of essentially everybody running the same equipment. You’ve got to find an advantage somewhere.”

Ganassi attributed Franchitti’s success at age 37 to a combination of factors. “First of all, first at the keystone in the whole thing is the fire that burns in his belly. That is the keystone to the whole thing, OK?” Ganassi said. “You might talk about the fact that the level of experience. Whether you want to believe it or not, you’d have to say that him going away for a year, maybe, I think, made him faster.

“I think he keenly understands in Brazil at the beginning of a year what it takes to win a championship at the end of the year. So it’s sort of a…it’s not just one thing, but it’s a plethora of inputs into a total package. But it starts with Dario. You have to want to do it, OK? That’s your launch pad, if you will, for the rest of what I was just saying. You have to want to do it. When you have a driver like him that wants to do it, it’s easy to put people around him that have an equal motivation.

“If he keeps looking as ‘slow’ as he did this year, he’ll be here for a long time.”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 14 2010
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