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Ingram: Can Anybody Derail The ‘Chip Slam’?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 10 2011

The No. 2 Ganassi car will feature cross-pollinated superstar drivers Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Racing Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief ™:

First there was the “Chiple.” That now leads us to the “Chip Slam.”

This latter pursuit has slipped under the radar among those who often tout motor racing standards, but it seems to me it doesn’t matter all that much if a team wins four of the biggest races in America in the same year – or in succession.

Although Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates missed an astonishing Grand Slam last year by 52 seconds – or the gap between its Riley-BMW and the winning Riley-Porsche in the Rolex 24 at Daytona – there’s still an opportunity to do something unlikely to ever happen again in our lifetime.

Tiger Woods held all of golf’s four major tournament titles at one time after winning The Masters in 2001 to go with his three majors from the previous year, hence the Tiger Slam. Later this month, it’s possible for the Ganassi team to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Rolex 24 at Daytona in succession, even if the four victories are not confined to one calendar year. Hence, the “Chip Slam.”

I must admit this subject first came up while talking to some of the Ganassi team members shortly after the “Chiple” was completed in Indianapolis. Since then, the relatively low-key, “let our racing do the talking” Ganassi squad hasn’t had much to say about the “Chip Slam” for public consumption. But rest assured, the two highly touted driving line-ups, as well as the rest of the Ganassi team, understand that a historic occasion will be at hand later this month – as well as a chance to avenge runner-up finishes in each of the last two Rolex 24-hours after three straight victories.

I wouldn’t bet against Ganassi. In fact, I’m predicting a win by one of the Ganassi Riley-

David Donohue will team up with Burt Friselle for Action Express this year at Daytona.

BMW’s. That’s because it’s the only two-car team with four professional drivers in each of its cars. In a sport typically including owner/drivers who wouldn’t be driving if they weren’t the owners, the odds are always in favor of the pros. And, in a short field of 17 cars, I’d hesitate to pick a one-car team. In a punishing race because of traffic and the G-forces of the banking, I like a four-driver line-up better than three.

Ganassi is also likely to hold an advantage when it comes to pacing. The No. 02 car will carry the heroes from IndyCar and NASCAR – Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. They aren’t looking for points and can afford to push the pace in search of a Rolex watch. The No. 01 car, where defending points champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas will be joined by Graham Rahal and Joey Hand, is more likely to stay on the lead lap until it’s time to close the deal in the wee hours or Sunday afternoon. In addition to pace, it’s also a significant advantage to have two cars when it comes to playing the usual plethora of yellows on what will be a faster track with new pavement on the banking.

This year’s 24-hour may seem to lack the incredibly amazing array of driving talent that has characterized it in recent years, but that may be because it’s now mostly the same all-star line-

Jimmie Johnson makes GAINSCO a team to watch in the Rolex.

up of drivers from different disciplines returning annually. That would include Jimmie Johnson, who would like to have a Rolex wristwatch to go with five Sprint Cups and help the GAINSCO team break out of its uncharacteristic also-ran status in the Grand-Am’s centerpiece event, the only race on the schedule annually that the Riley-Chevy team hasn’t won.

So count GAINSCO as one of the teams prepared to intercept the “Chip Slam,” which would have the added bonus of making a little history of its own. Johnson is vying to become the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Daytona 24-hour after Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. (It’s a record that McMurray could also claim with a victory by the No. 02 Ganassi entry.)

The Sun Trust team of Wayne Taylor has won the Rolex in a Daytona Prototype and is again led by the incomparable Max Angelelli. But in addition to just one Dallara entry, there are two of the team owner’s sons driving. Ricky and Jordan Taylor are good, very good. But I’d not bet on them versus guys like Montoya, whom I’ve watched school many a veteran driver through the East and West Horseshoes in the infield in the dark of night.

Action Express Racing is the defending champion. The team’s engine choice, a Porsche V-8 that has been privately developed from the Cayenne street engine, is now a proven winner. Plus, the line-up in the No. 5 Action Express entry of Darren Law, David Donohue and Buddy Rice have won this race previously in 2009 under Porsche flat six power. Their team manager is Gary Nelson, who knows how to win at Daytona in both the 500 and the 24-hour with his own particular brand of genius. The sister car, meanwhile, has two of last year’s winning drivers, Terry Borcheller and Joao Barbosa paired with J.C. France, who it must be remembered won a race prior to his temporary exile following an arrest on drug charges. This two-car crew is odds-on the first in line to derail the “Chip Slam.”

Michael Shank Racing is a team that shows well at Daytona and has a solid driving line-up in

A.J. Allmendinger want as new wristwatch.

A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Wilson (a two-time runner-up) and Michael McDowell, the former karting champion who earned his spurs in the Grand-Am before trying his hand at the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Amazingly, Allmendinger, the driver who would save No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, has led the Rolex 24 every year since his first entry in 2006, when he co-drove to second. (Sometimes, it’s easy to forget he once dominated the Toyota Atlantic Series and then had a five-win season in Champ Car before switching to NASCAR.)

If experience were the key element, Shank’s partnership with United Autosports would certainly deserve strong consideration. Just under 23 years since he drove a Jaguar XJR-9 to victory at Daytona for the late Tom Walkinshaw, Martin Brundle is returning to give it another try for the team of Zak Brown. In 1991, Brundle became the only foreign-born driver to give the good ol’ NASCAR stars and Indy car drivers a run for their money in the International Race of Champions. The 51-year-old Brundle, who occasionally made passes on the apron of the banking at Daytona during his TWR days, should at least be fun to watch.

(It would have been nice to watch a United Autosports team’s Audi R8 LMS in the Rolex in the GT class, but alas that’s another story, one concerning politics and rules. The team made an effort, but it didn’t work out. At least there’s a couple of Ferraris on the GT entry list.)

In a race where the per car budget is at least $350,000, teams that would win over-all at

The Sun Trust Daytona Prototype will be driven by Ricky Taylor, Ryan Briscoe and Max Angelelli.

Daytona have had to step up to the same preparation and driving line-ups as employed by Ganassi, again sponsored by Target and Telmex and directed by Mike Hull. Ultimately, it is a race against time and mechanically speaking a crap shoot, one that favors any team that can successfully push the pace – or survive it.

Quote of the Week: “I’ve been telling Mike Shank that I am not going to stop trying to win this race until we get to the top, and hopefully we can do that this year. Mike runs a great team, and this race is what his entire organization is all about. I can’t even describe how much I want to win this race. Getting so close the first time out, and having led it as much as we have only makes me want it that much more. This is a great chance to do that with this team and driver line up, so I’m very excited. With Best Buy coming back on board with us on the No. 43 in Cup and now kicking the season off with the 24, I’m already having a great 2011!” – A.J. Allmendinger, enjoying the pre-season calm before the storm

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 10 2011
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