The Racing Capital
of the World
May 15, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
Indianapolis is in the regular rotation of cities that host the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Final Four. This year it’s also the unofficial home of a completely different (and not nearly so serious) bracket.
Call it Ganassi May Madness.
With its four IZOD IndyCar Series entries bunkered in at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the lead up to the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Chip Ganassi Racing is staging a friendly competition to determine the All-Time Greatest Ganassi Racing Driver. Sixteen drivers have been seeded in four regions (Indianapolis, Charlotte, Long Beach and Daytona), with daily fan votes across social media platforms deciding daily match-ups.
In early action, two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon bested versatile sports car ace Joey Hand, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray topped NovoNordisk IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, and Jimmy Vasser pulled out a tight battle with Grand-Am legend Scott Pruett.
The match-ups are supposed to be friendly, but the contest has rekindled the competitive spirit in some of the Ganassi alumni.
“I’m just flattered to be one of the 16 finalists,” said Vasser, who enjoyed a famously combative relationship with Ganassi in their six years of working together.
“But I think it was Chip’s idea to get Vasser blown out in the first round.”
To avoid an early-round upset, Vasser successfully enlisted help from his friends (and current KV Racing Technology IndyCar Series drivers) Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello - and their combined 2.1 million Twitter followers.
In the Long Beach Regional, today’s quarterfinal features rising Indy car star Graham Rahal taking on Alex Zanardi, who won 16 races and two CART-sanctioned championships for Target Ganassi Racing between 1996 and ’98.
Zanardi won several races with drama and flair, most notably at Laguna Seca in 1996 when he passed Bryan Herta on the last lap in the famed Corkscrew turn.
Service Central driver Rahal Tweeted: “Lets be honest I’d love to win @CGRTeams greatest driver, but first round against arguably the greatest ever isn’t fair.”
Fans can vote in today’s competition on Twitter using hashtags #TeamZanardi or #TeamRahal.
Chip Ganassi was a partner in Patrick Racing’s victory with Emerson Fittipaldi in the 1989 Indianapolis 500 and CART championship. The following year, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing and fielded a car sponsored by Target Stores in the CART series for driver Eddie Cheever.
Michael Andretti replaced Cheever in 1994 and scored the team’s first Indy car race wins. The pairing of Vasser and Zanardi dominated the CART Indy car series from 1996-98, and rookie phenom Juan Pablo Montoya scored the team’s fourth consecutive CART title in 1999 and added victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing joined the IndyCar Series full-time in 2003 and Scott Dixon won the first of his two series titles. Dixon, who is the longest tenured Ganassi driver having started with the organization in mid-2002, added a second IndyCar Series crown and an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2008.
Dario Franchitti has carried on Ganassi’s winning tradition in Indy cars by claiming the last three IndyCar Series championships. Franchitti also won the 2010 Indianapolis 500 for Ganassi and is tipped along with Zanardi as the co-favorite in the intra-team bracket.
More than 50 drivers have competed for the Ganassi organization since 1989 in NASCAR, Indy car and sports car racing. The 16 finalists are:
· Michael Andretti
· Luis Diaz
· Scott Dixon
· Dario Franchitti
· Joey Hand
· Charlie Kimball
· Arie Luyendyk
· Sterling Marlin
· Jamie McMurray
· Juan Pablo Montoya
· Scott Pruett
· Graham Rahal
· Memo Rojas
· Jimmy Vasser
· Dan Wheldon
· Alex Zanardi
Daily match-ups will take place through May 18, with the ‘Final Four’ set for May 23-25. Additional information is available at chipganassiracing.com