Gordon Kirby

The sweet scent of success

The 2015 campaign has been good for Chip Ganassi’s race teams. Scott Dixon scooped the Indycar title away from Juan Pablo Montoya and Penske at the final race of the season, recording Ganassi’s 100th Indycar victory and 11th championship, while his United SportsCar team won the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for a record sixth time and are now flat out testing the new Ford GT Le Mans car in preparation for its race debut at Daytona in January. And Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have been running well in NASCAR, if not winning races.

Ganassi was particularly delighted with Dixon’s unexpected success. To steal the championship from the clutches of Roger Penske and Montoya, who spent nine years with Ganassi in CART and NASCAR, was doubly satisfying.

“This championship was a little sweeter than others for reasons that I’m sure are obvious to everybody on the inside, if not the outside,” Chip says. “For one it was the last race and we came from behind to beat Montoya, not only with Scott but with [Charlie] Kimball and [Tony] Kanaan who were there in third and fourth. Everybody did what they had to do to make this championship a reality. All the pieces came together.”

The Indy 500 was Chip’s biggest disappointment of the year. “That was a huge heartbreak,” he says. “We just weren’t prepared for the situation at the end. Scott took pole and led a bunch of laps. We had a really fast car and it just overheated at the end, so we couldn’t do what we had been doing.”

At 35, Dixon has been with Ganassi for 15 years – most of his professional career. He has now won four IndyCar championships while Ganassi’s team has won six of the past eight. 

Dixon has emerged as the top Indycar driver of the modern era. He’s won 38 races and is ranked fifth on the list of all-time winners behind AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Al Unser Sr.

“Scott is amazing as he just seems to get better with age,” Ganassi says. “You couldn’t have a better team leader. You couldn’t have a better guy on the track, or off the track.”

What are the primary challenges Chip sees for Indycar racing? “I’d like to see a strengthening and stabilising of the management team to help develop the business,” he says. “I think that’s important. It’s not all negative about Indycar like it used to be. There are a lot of positives. We’re coming up to the 100th Indianapolis 500. That’s going to be big. We’re looking forward to it.”

Ganassi attends more than 50 races every year in Indycar, NASCAR and sports cars. Other than Penske, few team owners are as busy. Chip is very excited with his team’s new Ford GT programme, which he will run in partnership with Multimatic. His team will run two cars in both America and the World Endurance Championship, including Le Mans.  

“I’ve been to Le Mans as a driver, so I have some idea of what it’s all about,” Ganassi says. “But I’m really looking forward to going back there as an owner in a partnership with Ford. It’s a little bit of a challenge to go into the GT Le Mans category. It’s a very competitive class with multiple manufacturers. We have a lot to learn but we’re certainly up for the challenge.”

And the state of the racing business?

“It’s been better and it’s been worse,” he says. “We live in a constantly evolving environment. Fans have a lot of choices and sponsors have a lot of options. These are all challenges we face as the business evolves and we need to approach these things with an open mind and a strong will.”