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Ganassi Racing’s Hull Talks Droughts And Streaks

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 20 2013

Mike Hull of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Fans get to see flashes of Mike Hull on television broadcasts of IndyCar events. And they get to hear short quips from the long-time managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing during pre-race advances and post-race reactions.

But Hull, who spends his time during races sitting on pit boxes and calling the shots for the Ganassi drivers and crews, is mostly a behind-the-scenes guy.

On Wednesday – three days after Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the weekend of racing on the Toronto street course by winning both races and both poles of the doubleheader event, and a week and three days after CGR driver Scott Dixon won at Pocono – Hull took some time to answer a series of questions during a telephone call with RacinToday.com.

His answers were considerably more expansive than the snippets and soundbites normally attributed to Hull, and were also very revealing.

A transcript of that Q and A follows:

RacinToday: Pretty good time in Toronto the way it looked.

Mike Hull: “At the end of the race, it’s a lot of fun, yes.”

RT: Your teams seem to be on an upswing after almost a year of un-Ganassi-like racing.

MH: “First of all, I think we’ve had pretty good cars this year. We’ve had a little bit of misfortune but certainly not at every race. I think when you’re not having the performance you would like to have – not necessarily what we are used to – but not the kind of performance you would really like to have, it really makes you bear down and work hard on defining inside the box you work in, how to make your car better.

“You know there has been a lot written about the performance of the (Honda) engine compared to the Chevrolet engine, but I don’t think it’s horrible, or at least it hasn’t been. They’re making their engine a bit more tunable and drivable for how an IndyCar is driven on the race track. And while all that’s been going on, we’ve been working on our car. And the two have blended themselves together very well now. And as a result of working hard together, that’s what you see. You see the result of that.

“Let’s face it; every Sunday is validation day and the worst day in the world if you had a bad day, is Monday. Not Sunday, because you’ve got to get back to the reality of getting ready for the next Sunday. I think people have

Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon lept back into title contention in Canada. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

watched our history over time and I think the integrity of the result is the demeanor you display while you’re trying to find sustained success. That’s really the key, right there. Sustained success is very, very difficult to achieve in life, in business and anything you do. It just requires a lot of patience and accepting the support of each other while you’re doing it.”

RT: Was there a lot of soul searching going on when times, results, were not as good as hoped?

MH: “I think what happens is with a good group of people is they look at each other every morning, seven days a week and they re-define themselves with the priorty that’s in front of them. I think you have to do that in a very honest and open manner with each other because communication these days needs to be about visual communication as well as verbal communication. You have to make sure, together, you are getting the most out of each other based on priority. That priority becomes heightened when you’re not getting the results you want to get. I think that’s what we try to do here. It’s what you can accomplish together and some days that is very difficult.”

RT: In 2012 you went, I believe, five straight races without a podium. Was it the new things that were going on in the sport and on the track that year? The new leadership in the series?

MH: “I had somebody call me on Monday after Toronto who owns a racing team. He used to race himself. He can remain nameless. But he’s very successful in his own right in a different series presently. He no longer drives, he’s an owner. He said to me, ‘You know what? I stopped watching IndyCar because it was boring.’ I said, ‘yeah?’ He said, ‘I now don’t miss watching an IndyCar race.’

“It’s one of the most exciting forms of motor racing you can watch on television and I think that’s what we’re talking about here. IndyCar racing has become very, very competitive. Nobody can explain why, including us. It’s just happened. Because of that, good race drivers can drive one of these cars at the front ,and with the pit lane remaining open as it has with Beaux Barfield being the (race) steward, which I think is good, it’s mixed up the racing. You see different categorical drivers racing against each other wheel-to-wheel that we didn’t used to see.

“I think that’s good for the sport, it’s good for racing, it’s good for the perception of our brand and that’s what happens with teams like Chip Ganassi Racing: You’re having a great, wonderful day and all of a sudden, you’re racing around guys that you should be racing around that you may never have raced around before and it means that what you have to do is that you have to focus in on your program a lot better.

“If we don’t find the podium for a while, it doesn’t mean we’re falling apart. It just means we have to work harder.”

RT: That goes for this year too, with all the different winners, too?

MH: “I still think Andretti’s program (Andretti Autosport) has been the best from the very beginning of this race

Mike Hull of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

season. They have four really good race drivers, they have good management, they have good engineering and they have great sponsors. Their team chemistry is excellent. What’s that done is, you know the old adage of be careful not to poke the gorilla? That’s what Andretti’s done. They’ve poked a gorilla, with all these other teams trying to examine what they do and leap frog over the top of them. That’s the way racing works.”

RT: The DW12 chassis was supposed to be a playing-field-evener. Is it responsible for what we are seeing in terms of different teams winning races?

MH: “I think it does have something to do with it. It takes a while to learn what you need to do with it, but I think it’s more aligned with drivers and their drive style. Some drivers, for example, adapt well to a Cup car but maybe not a Nationwide car…and I don’t think it’s any different in IndyCar racing. Some drivers adapt well from Indy Lights and some don’t and it’s just a matter of being able to adapt to the team culture and philosophy of how you run a car with a driver’s drive style. And when you have a new car, that’s what you have to do.

“The other thing that has changed this year and everybody has talked about is the tires, but the tires are the same construction as they have been in the past. They have the same durability built into them, they have the same racing quality, but the composition of the rubber is slightly different this year because Firestone is trying to meet the green requirements for recycling so some people have taken a little longer than others to understand how to make the tires work.

“You add all those things together and maybe that answers your question.”

RT: What else has affected the racing this year and last? You mentioned Beaux Barfield becoming the steward.

MH: “They’re administering the races in a different way also.”

RT: How, specifically?

MH: “I think we saw that at Toronto on Sunday. We saw Brian Barnhart, who administered the race a certain way. Beaux Barfield administers the same race in a completely different manner. Look at it this way: If Beaux would have managed Saturday and Brian would have managed Sunday, their style of management would have been different but we still would have had really good races.

“Beaux would have kept the pit lane open more than Brian does. But the result, once it goes back to green, is still good racing. It’s just different. I think Beaux’s style of managing a race has really helped the racing itself. I think that has a lot to do with what you’re seeing. What you see in person and what you see on television. Either way

Dario Franchitti won last year's Indy 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

works. We’ve had really good road and street course races this year.

“People need to understand why we open and close a pit lane when there’s a full-course yellow. The reason the pit road is closed and we pack up behind a pace car is so the safety people can get to the incident quicker. Not so we can clean it up and go back to green, but to get to the race driver. The whole reason to close the pit lane is because we value race drivers highly and we want to make sure they’re OK as quickly as possible.

“On an oval, you close the pit lane as quickly as you can because the race track is very small in comparison to the amount of area you have to cover. You can get to an incident on a road course without closing the pit lane and still have people cycle around the race track in a safe manner. But if you’re in Milwaukee (a 1-mile oval) and you have an accident in Turn 2, you’re going to get the field behind the pace car and slow down to 50 mph as fast as you can in order to accommodate helping the driver. When you do that then, it doesn’t mix up the field as much as if the pit lane were open.

“I read earlier in the year some people really complained about the Texas race. ‘Ah, most boring race I’ve seen in my life. They need to do a better job of having the cars race together.’ Well, the whole point of the exercise is when you have an accident there, you close the pit lane, which does bunch the cars up, but they still sequentially come in the pit lane typically in lead-lap order and the racing is going to be the same when it starts again. Whereas on a road track, and the pits are open, you have an option on whether you’re going to stop or not. Some guys stop under a full-course yellow, some guys stay out. At Toronto, that would go on for 85 laps and you don’t know when somebody’s going to come.

“It’s kind of cool to race that way. We, some days, don’t like the results if we chose the wrong strategy.”

RT: So, given that, do you spend time analyzing how a race might be administered?

MH: “No. We spend more time with race history. How many times have we raced at Toronto? Nineteen times now? We knew going into an 85-lap race at Toronto, we most likely were going to have 20 yellow laps. We knew that was going to happen. We don’t necessarily know when, but we know most likely that’s going to happen.

“Now this year, what did we have? Twelve in one and 14 in the other or whatever it was. It was pretty close to the average. So what we do is we back away from that and we look at what we want to do – we always want to stop under yellow if we can, if it falls within the pit window. We’re not going to put ourselves all the way in the back of the scrum just to pit for fuel and tires if it’s at the wrong point, but we know, hey, our window opens at lap 18 and it goes yellow at 15, we’re coming. If it goes yellow at five, were not coming.

“So we know based on history, how we will probably call the race. What we do past that, is we look at where we are in relationship to the leader if we are not the leader, when the race goes yellow to make sure that we can get in

Chip Ganassi and his drivers crowded the podium after the IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

and out of the pits. Here’s a real-live example: The in-and-out time at Toronto, from the time the driver crosses the blend line coming in until he crosses the blend line going out, and does his top, was 28 seconds on a 60-second lap. That’s a third of a lap. If you lose a third of a lap in the pits under green and the track goes yellow five laps from then, and the pit lane is open, you’ll never get back to the leader.

“Those are the things you carefully have to look at as it unfolds in front of you. That’s certainly something that is very hard to explain to somebody who you are writing about this for or somebody watching TV or whatever, because you almost need a blimp view of track position in order to explain it. Anybody that’s involved in calling a race from the pit stand should be a spotter first. They should be up on top of a spotting stand for an oval first.”

RT: You mostly watch from pit road these days. Roger Penske still spots for his drivers.

MH: “Anybody who has the opportunity to go up on the spotter stand needs to take advantage of it if they want to have a better comprehension of what we’re talking about here.

“When I went to work or Chip, we were allowed to have spotters, finally, and he said to me, ‘You need to go up there and spot.’ I thought at first, my God, now I’m going to get away from the race. But I understand what Chip was talking about now. It helps you visually comprehend how people make track positions.”

RT: The sweep in Toronto. It gave you three wins in a row. You and your team must have felt pretty good leaving Toronto on Sunday, right?

MH: “If we would have left on Saturday and had not have had the same result on Sunday, we still would have felt good about the weekend because it means that we are finally making positive steps in the right direction. I was excited. I was excited to race at Toronto, I was excited about the cars we had. I was excited when I personally figured out that our guys were making sense out of where we are with the grip level on the cars and it made me want to come home and work harder. So, I was excited for all those things.”

RT: Did you sense a similar excitement level among those on the two teams?

MH: “I think it validates who they are. There is one striking statement that when I read it, it has always stuck in my mind. Tiger Woods was quoted as saying a long time ago, he said, I can’t remember exactly how it went but it was something like, he says you don’t really get remembered for the number of wins in your career. It’s the major wins in major championships that they’re going to remember about Tiger Woods. I think in motor racing, it’s the same thing.

“We won at Toronto and it’s a big deal. But people aren’t going to remember that. They’re going to remember that we won big races. If we win the Indy 500, they’re going to remember that. So, it’s really important to win because what that does is, it drives the work force that creates the momentum to prove to them. That’s what it does. It’s validation that they can win together. And that’s key to having sustained success. Success is sustained by everybody pulling on the same oar. When they see success like that, they pull harder. That’s what I was happy about when we left Pocono and what I was really happy about when we left Toronto.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 20 2013
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