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Flat Spot On: Chip Ganassi Goes GT Racing

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2016
Chip Ganassi has a lot on his plate during this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Like bringing Ford GTs onto the track and managing his DP teams. (Photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series)

Chip Ganassi has a lot on his plate during this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Like birthing Ford GTs and managing his DP teams at the same time. (Photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chip Ganassi may not have done it all in motor racing yet, but he’s accomplished more than most.

At this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Ganassi embarks on yet another major challenge for his team with an entry of two Ford GT cars. It will mark the return of the American manufacturer to endurance racing for bugopinionthe first time since the glory years of the 1960s, when the Mk. II of Ford first defeated Ferrari at the Le Mans 24-hour in 1966.

As usual, Ganassi was wearing his ‘What, me worry?’ pre-race expression during a casual meeting with reporters after the announcement of his induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, which has recently moved to Daytona Beach.

“There’s a lot of tradition and history,” he said of Ford’s revived connection to endurance racing, “but at the end of the day it’s another race and it’s about winning.”

Because of his winning record, Ford chose Ganassi’s team for a program which will also promote the sale of the new Ford GT road car. The second version of these road cars, they are modeled on the Ford GT40s that were built in England and raced at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965. When those cars failed to beat Ferrari’s Le Mans specials, Henry Ford II established a “skunk works” at Kar Kraft in Dearborn, Michigan, where the Mk. II was built before emerging victorious at Le Mans with the team of Carroll Shelby in 1966.

These days, “win on Sunday and sell on Monday” is a bit more complicated. But road racing programs by Porsche, Corvette and Ferrari have proven manufacturers can make big bucks with car sales keyed to similar endurance racing machines.

“Four, five six years ago, during the car crisis or financial crisis, the car companies started saying, ‘We’re OK with racing but we want to see cars that we can sell,’” said Ganassi, who is familiar with winning on

The Ford GT will make it's world debut this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Ford GT will make its world debut this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Sundays.

 The Ganassi team has won four Indy 500s, six Rolex 24s, 17 racing championships and more than 160 races. The most singular accomplishment was the “Chip Slam.” In the course of a 12-month period, the Ganassi team won the 2010 Daytona 500, the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 and, in January of 2011, the Rolex 24.

Even in retrospect, it remains a breathtaking accomplishment, especially considering the 24-hour – where so much can go wrong – was the final leg. “Our team was bullet proof,” said Ganassi of the year when every victory invited pundits to ask if he could add another significant victory in succession. “It’s always great to be part of something like that.”

The next race is always uppermost in a team owner’s mind. Although not worried, Ganassi’s experience is telling him that fault-free testing of the new Ford GT in a 12-hour race simulation at the high-speed, bumpy Sebring International Raceway may not be a good thing. “We tested the cars pretty hard and haven’t been able to break anything. And that concerns me.”

Elsewhere, Ganassi is mounting a two-car challenge in the Sprint Cup after surprisingly going winless during last year’s NASCAR season, and has a Global RallyCross entry, not to mention two Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley prototypes entered in the Rolex 24 to complement the brace of  Ford GT teams that will compete in North America and internationally.

Unlike any other American racing team owner with the notable exception of Roger Penske, Ganassi has jumped into a wide variety of racing projects with the gusto of a pole driver trying to beat the field into Turn 1 at the drop of the green.

What’s the motivation? Ganassi believes winning breeds winning and the transfer of knowledge from one category in racing to another gives his team an advantage. It starts with what they all have in common – four patches, or tires, on the racing surface. “We try to build a patch of knowledge that you can apply to other series. That’s what we’re always working to do.”

It can get complicated. In a meeting with an executive of Target, one of his major sponsors, Ganassi was asked about what all he had going on this season. “I had to stop and write down the names (of drivers) to make sure I remembered them all.” It was no small task and one wonders how much time this exercise took. This year, Ganassi will field 13 cars in six series with 19 different drivers.

Getting inducted to Motorsports Hall of Fame of America was the second such nomination for Ganassi. A former open wheel driver and a one-time sports prototype driver at Road America, the Pittsburgh native is also a member of the Italian-American Hall of Fame in Chicago.

“This is one of the things in my life that makes me feel old,” he said of the most recent honor. “It’s like when you break a bone and it doesn’t heal as fast as when you were in your twenties or thirties. It’s like when you go visit your daughter at her college and she shows you her fake ID.”

But there’s no sign of slowing down in a season that will include the team’s first appearance at the Le Mans 24-hour with the Ford GT, which will be the centerpiece of Ganassi’s first World Endurance Championship season. A second team will compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar series in North America.

Asked if he had any bucket list racing plans beyond this season, Ganassi was understandably non-committal. “My plate,” he said, “is full now.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2016
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