Chip Ganassi Racing enters Portland International Raceway this weekend with an NTT IndyCar Series championship prospect that’s utterly unprecedented and also utterly familiar.
Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou remain within striking distance of championship leader Will Power with two races remaining – the first time in Ganassi’s lauded history that the organization has been this deep into the season with three title-worthy cars. Team Penske also has three title-eligible drivers (Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin) but for the second time in five years (Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud fought their way out in 2017).
While Ganassi has won 14 championships (including six from Dixon) over the past 32 years, he has had dynamic duos of competitors (Alex Zanardi/Jimmy Vasser, Dixon/Dan Wheldon, Dixon/Dario Franchitti) but never a trio vying for the crown lap so far into the final phase.
INDY CAR IN PORTLAND: Schedules as seen on NBC, Peacock this weekend
This, of course, begs the question: how does preparing three championship-caliber cars affect the workload at Ganassi without being able to prioritize resources or staff for just one or two entries (while also nabbing Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Dallara-Honda to use). Loading in Indianapolis?
“It doesn’t,” Ganassi executive director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “That is not the case with us and never has been. With Chip, I go all the way back to the beginning.”
Shortly after being hired by team owner Chip Ganassi to officiate the two-car competition in 1992, Hull said the team’s top-down policy of standardization over specialization was evident.
“Even when we were building test parts, we had to make sure we were building everything twice for both cars,” Hull said. “Chip said that neither driver will get anything different than the other driver. And in some cases when building test parts, you only want to build one set. But that wasn’t the case with him.
“After that follows everything that we’ve done here from Indianapolis, whether it was IndyCar, sportscar or anything else that we’ve done. We’ve always made sure that if we can only have it for one car, we won’t do it. And Chip’s belief, and he’s right, is that when every driver and every team member feels like everyone is equal, then it’s easier to be altruistic about the stock. And we’re lucky because we have a bunch of people who grew up in this system who look after the younger people who work here and who understand how we work. Today we accept this as commonplace. We don’t question that. We don’t worry about that.”
The drivers also seem unconcerned – despite (or maybe because of) a season that was characterized by several weeks of contractual disputes.
It was Palou, the series’ defending champion and race winner at Portland involved in a lawsuit with Ganassi about his future
But in the six races since announcing he was joining McLaren Racing, the Spaniard has remained competitive. And although His remote access to Ganassi data and engineering has been restrictedPalou is confident he will have the same shot at the title as Dixon and Ericsson.
“One hundred percent,” Palou said after finishing third in Nashville (which is also where he was a short chat after the race with Ganassi). “I think it’s busy but at the end of the day Chip would be super happy if we won the championship. He wants one of his cars to win the championship. We can’t win all three, but he wants one car to win. I don’t think I get less stuff or as much attention than others. Yes, I think we certainly have a fair chance.”
Dixon said: “We are here to win. Everyone tries to win. I’ve always loved that about this team. Obviously, this is an odd situation, and it hasn’t changed for Chip. The pre-race meetings are the same and all of our cars are trying to win this championship. I know Alex tries to win this championship as often as possible. It’s in his best interests, as well as ours. Yes, some things get a little awkward here and there, but we’re all here to win. That makes it pretty easy.”
The IndyCar rulebook also simplifies Ganassi’s pursuit of equality across his four cars.
Since the introduction of the DW12 Dallara a decade ago, IndyCar has used a common chassis. Five years ago, the introduction of universal aero kits made the range even more ‘special’ and increased standardization by further reducing suppliers. (NASCAR took a similar direction this season with the next-generation car.)
“I think you see that in other forms of motorsports besides IndyCar and what’s happened is that the sanctioning authorities have tightened the specs of the cars so they’re much closer together than ever before,” Hull said. “They are no longer specific to the team. The cars are more specific, it’s more specific to the series.
“That’s why you have all the more information, even though the information is almost finite. It helps you climb the trellis together much more effectively than before. So what happens with teams like Chip Ganassi Racing is they value the input from the intellectual property that creates the car and then the selfless exchange between the drivers and the engineering group and the managers to run those cars. That goes from the very first trackwalk to the last lap of the race.”
While there might be benefits to running an organization in lockstep across four cars, Hull acknowledged that keeping the team engaged can be problematic because “racers are competitive and are constantly trying to gain an advantage.”
Despite the specification limits, the team can still build some aerodynamic parts for use in all four cars. Ganassi scrupulously measures their effectiveness on the track and makes these results immediately transparent through internal wireless communication.
“If we think it’s the right configuration, but a driver goes out on the track and says, ‘Well, that’s not working for me, and I’m not going to tell anyone,’ then we don’t do that away,” said Hull. “We make sure everyone understands that we’ve tried something and we’ll explain why it didn’t work. It’s not filtered and we don’t blame each other.
“What we’re trying to do is reinforce the fact that our advantage is in working together, not separating.”