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Flat Spot On – Ganassi’s Sebring Marathon

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 20 2022

Chip Ganassi’s whacky week all worked out for the best at Sebring on Saturday.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

SEBRING, Fla. – So, you think you want to be a team owner?

Consider Chip Ganassi’s experience with his Cadillac DPi team at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, where he arrived looking for his team’s first over-all victory since 2014 and his first with Cadillac.

– Five days before the 12-hour, your two-car entry loses one of its key drivers when Kevin Magnussen confirms he is leaving to rejoin his former Haas F-1 team to replace the fired Nikita Mazepin, the son of an oligarch who lost his job as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I really have to say thank you to both Peugeot and Chip Ganassi Racing for releasing me promptly – both are great organizations” says Magnussen in his prepared statement.

– You recover nimbly by hiring Neel Jani to co-drive the No. 02 entry with Alex Lynn and Earl Bamber. The latter has previously been a teammate on the Porsche factory team with Jani, winning at Le Mans in the Porsche 919 Hybrid in 2015 and 2017. Jani won with the Porsche team in 2016. You and your chief strategist Mike Hull put a lot of emphasis on driver character and believe Swiss driver Jani has it.

– A defending winner from 2021 and one of your season-long drivers, Sebastien Bourdais puts the No. 01 Cadillac on the pole in qualifying for the 12-hour. Your No. 02 entry qualifies fourth.

– Magnussen qualifies seventh in the season-opening F1 race at Bahrain, advancing Haas to Q3 for the first time since he and Romain Grosjean drove for the team in 2019.

– Your two Cadillacs take the green flag in a field of seven DPi prototypes and 53 total entries. Moments later, Bourdais and your pole-winning car appear on the pit road, losing two laps after the crew removes the rear cowling to look for a problem, then replaces it.

– At the 45-minute mark, the No. 01 car pits and replaces the steering wheel. The problem turns out to be the gearbox. After repairs behind the wall, the car returns over 40 laps in arrears.

– Your single factory-backed Cadillac Racing entry remaining is part of a day-long duel in 90-degree heat with the Cadillacs of Action Express and JDC-Miller Motorsports and the brace of Acura DPis.

– Good news. The No. 02 contender and drivers Bamber, Lynn and Jani find the gradually cooling temperatures of early evening very accommodating. The team’s strategy of setting up for the night is paying dividends with lap times consistently below the other contenders. Lynn extends No. 02’s leading margin to 35 seconds before pitting to hand over to Bamber for the final two full stints.

– Bamber spins on his out lap. He retains the lead, but comes into the pits – where your crew waves him through without stopping. Looks like a penalty for knocking off a GTD car. The pit road stroll leaves Bamber four seconds behind the defending 12-hour-winning team of JDC-Motorsports, where Richard Westbrook is now the driver of the No. 5 car.

– With one hour remaining, Bamber closes on Westbrook’s rear wing and dives inside at Turn 10 to re-take the lead. Four corners later, Bamber collides with a GTD Ferrari and spins, giving the lead back to Westbrook and falling almost six seconds behind. He confesses later that he “did some of my best driving and my worst driving in the same stint.”

– With 45 minutes remaining, Westbrook gets balked by a GTD Porsche entering the back straight and Bamber nearly collides with his rear wing, then darts to the inside and re-takes the lead a second time. The perspective of the long TV lens leaves everyone breathless, including you.

– Hoping to put a buffer between Bamber and the JDC-Miller Cadillac, your pit box strategists bring the No. 01 cars down the pit road behind the No. 02 entry for the final full-service pit stop. If they leave in tandem, there will be two Ganassi Cadillacs to catch and pass, not just one. Instead of getting out of the pits ahead of the No. 5 car, now driven by Tristan Vautier, the No. 01 Cadillac is too slow leaving its pit stall.

– Bamber loses 1.5 seconds to Vautier in a single lap before re-establishing a four-second lead. Finally, Bamber crosses the line with a six-second margin of victory. You see him in victory lane and the New Zealander tells you what a privilege it is to win Sebring for the same team owner he grew up watching win the Indy 500 and IndyCar championships with fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon.

– You give Bamber a big hug, an even bigger smile and tell him, “You’re lucky you won this race.”

(Editor’s note: Jonathan Ingram and Bill Lester are co-authors of the 2021 release from Pegasus Books titled “Winning In Reverse.” Ingram’s book “CRASH! From Senna to Earnhardt – How the HANS Helped Save Racing” illustrates the 20-year struggle to establish racing’s first head restraint. Both books carry five-star ratings on Amazon and are also available at www.jingrambooks.com.)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 20 2022
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