A Conversation with Chip Ganassi Racing
MODERATOR: We certainly have an all-star lineup with Ganassi Racing. Mike, your team has had great success here at Indianapolis. Looking to my left, if I were you, great chance of having good success again.
MIKE HULL: I don't know how to measure success. Maybe we've said it in here before, I don't know. What we do at Chip Ganassi Racing, I think we do a really good job of accentuating the fact we have to get the most out of today. That creates the consistency with all the people that work for us, all the team people, everybody that works, the consistency of our sponsorship as you can see has gone on for a long, long time. It's built this culture that allows us to be successful. I think what you see in front of you are four race drivers that represent us. They're our quarterbacks. They're the guys that get out there and get it done for us. But what they truly represent is everybody that works together to make it happen. Certainly you want results and expectation to cross over at the right time at the Indy 500. So we hope that works out for us.
MODERATOR: Dario, I take a look at the last several years for you. You had a Hall of Fame kind of résumé of going back half a dozen years ago, and it got better and better with each and every turn. Talk about your car, your chances to pick up number three.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It would be lovely to pick up number three. We're still working to try to get the car where we want it, all the different conditions, still learning this new DW12, what it likes in race conditions. That's all going to change again today. We're going to put the engine up to 140, and we'll see what that does getting ready for qualifying tomorrow. We've got one day to do it in. We'll see what we can do for qualifying, then we'll get back to focusing on the race, trying to win another one. But it's a very stout field, including the boys to my left here. Our job is to try to put the Target car in Victory Lane, especially this year with Target's 50th anniversary. They're changing the car number to 50 to celebrate that.
MODERATOR: Scott, I talked to several drivers this year that said developing a new car is really fun for a race driver. Do you feel that way?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, definitely. I think for our team we were definitely deeply involved in that with the addition of Honda. It was exciting to have an offseason where you were testing a lot. In season, you only get six days of testing. I think I did that probably in the first month with the new car. It was nice to be at the track, developing a new product. I think for all of us it was exciting. We had a car that pretty much was stagnant for six or eight years, depending on which car you were with at the time. For me it's a change of times, it's a new car, it requires different things. I think also for the teams, it's exciting trying to develop something different and start from scratch and try and make gains. All in all, it's been a fun offseason. We've had some good results, but not great results. We definitely are looking to improve that. I think here in this month would be a great time to do it.
MODERATOR: It was a brisk day when I came into the press room and announced this opportunity for you a couple of winters to go. I would think this is the year now where everything would be a lot more comfortable for you.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: We're definitely coming into the month understanding what's going on a lot more. All these guys told me last year I didn't know anything. It wasn't this year until I really understood what they meant. Coming off of last year into this year, I have such a better understanding of what's happening. As a team, I think we're starting to jell together, the four of us. I've really benefited from that, the experience sitting to my right and left, drawing on that, has shortened the learning curve as much as possible. It's really steep as strong as the field is this year. Also with the engine competition, it's nice to be able to learn from these guys and continue to work with Honda as a partner and build toward future success, start that process now this year.
MODERATOR: Graham, we always have press conferences at the end of the day. When you show up at one of them, it means that things are going pretty good. You've made an appearance down on the first floor this year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's been a great month for us, great week, for the Service Central guys. When we showed up, we thought we were competitive. The one thing this year is there's so much uncertainty. As far as Dario was saying, today is a whole new day compared to yesterday. We worked hard to put ourselves in that position. There's several teams that have multiple cars. We have four guys here that are all working toward the same goal. Yesterday we worked well together on improving the race cars. I think we made some huge steps. Overall it's gone really well, really one minor hiccup, and we've moved on from that. The car has been extremely fast. I have high expectations, as I do every year. Coming off third last year, I feel there's a better understanding of how to compete here and race this race. You understand when I started 29th last year, you think that's the death sentence. But you can make up so much time and space here so quickly. We know if we can start up front, we can compete. That's what we're here today. I think the four guys sitting up here are going to have a good chance to win this race. Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole, we've done a really good job building toward that. I hope things keep going the way they are because things are going well, and we're looking forward to today. We're going to turn up the boost a little bit, trim her out, see what they can do.
MODERATOR: Questions for the group.
Q: Dario, Danica put such a spin on this series. There were pluses and minuses for you guys. What is it like not having that going on here?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't understand the question (laughter).
Q: What is the impact of not having that person that brought in non-sports publications?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There's been no impact for me. I don't know about any of the other guys up here. There's been no impact. It's not affecting me on or off the track, no.
Q: Mike, it seems this year, last year was the inaugural run for the west side team. It seems like you are working the Target guys and the west side guys more. Is there a competitiveness or more integration? How would you react to that?
MIKE HULL: Whew! I think Charlie said it well. What happens when you work together is you grow together. That's what we did. That's what we've done. We've grown together to learn from each other. The advantage that we have is the fact that we're a cohesive group of people. No matter what people on the outside want to try to stir up, internally we work really well together. I think we probably represent four different drive styles here. People may not realize that on the outside, but what we have in common is the information that all four drivers provide to each other. On any given day, particularly at Indianapolis, in order to achieve success, as was brought up earlier at Indianapolis, you have to chase the grip level on the racetrack every day. If Dario as three other people that can look him in the eye and say, “This is what the grip is doing today,” he and his engineer and his guys can really push hard. Then from that point forward, whether it be in the timing stand looking at somebody else while they're running on the racetrack with live telemetry, or whether it be in a verbal conversation in the engineering office. That's the advantage that we have as a team and the fact that we work together as a team. I think that's where we are today. If we had a bigger roof, everybody would be under one roof, to be honest. We don't have a large enough roof at present to make that happen.
Q: Mike, can you talk a little bit about the fact that you have had so much success the last two or three years, and this has been a struggle so far with the new package. What do you do with the adjustments? For the drivers, looking forward, is this a way to push the restart button and get it going again?
MIKE HULL: You can pull the covers over your head or go to work every day. That's kind of the choice you have. We chose the latter. We work hard every day. We accept success, and we accept failure. They're equal to us. We learn from both of them. We're learning a lot, like everybody else is. We've had success. We'd rather have, as Dario said, a lot more success than we've had. It's disappointing when we don't truly succeed. It's very disappointing to us. So we're working hard to rectify that, and we'll be there.
Q: Dario and Scott, today being a little bit more boosted, for lack of a better term, how will you file that away and be able to make use of it after today and tomorrow? Passing this year, how much more difficult or easier will it be in your eyes?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the boost thing is only relevant for today and tomorrow. It would be lovely to keep it, especially if everybody had to go back to 130, but unfortunately that's not going to happen. If anything, you learn today and tomorrow. There's probably not a lot of carryover to the race stuff. You might learn a couple of things with the setup, but I would say everything today and tomorrow is more specific to those two days.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, no, I totally agree. These next two days are our focus by itself. I think over the last sort of four or five days, we've been focusing mostly on the race setup, what we're going to be able to do with the 130 boost. Today will be interesting. I think it's going to be challenging in its own right. I think it's challenging because it's something different. Most of the week has been pretty much the same thing, trying to fix the same problem. I think we could potentially have different problems in the next couple days. As far as the racing and passing, it seems like you can come from a long way back. I don't think we're going to see the race spread out like it tends to sometimes, especially with the slower cars toward the back end of the group. It seems easy to suck up and get close. The passing has been pretty good. Once you get eight cars deep, mid sort of pack, it's very turbulent. You use a lot of downforce. It's very hard to get a run. I think you're going to see a lot, a lot of passing this year.
Q: I want an example of the differences between the drivers. What does Dario do that Charlie doesn't do or Scott? A little example in racing and driving.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Taking the throttle pedal out of Graham's car and putting a switch there.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Dix can drive as loose as you've ever seen.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we all do different things in different parts, especially around Indianapolis. Especially with the steering, where we put the steering, how we put them into the lines we run, the setup we like in the car. I think we all do subtly different things.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Yeah, I think maybe here not as much, but especially on a road and street circuit. I think during the course of the weekend, you see all our driving styles take pieces from each other and evolve toward taking the best out of each other to come up with the quickest whole package.
SCOTT DIXON: I think it's amazing. When you look at the overlays, they're so different and still achieve the same time. I think even on an oval, Milwaukee, Dario was quicker by two 10th in (Turns) 1 and 2, and I was quicker in (Turns) 3 and 4 doing the same time. Totally different ways of achieving it. It's fun. It's exciting. For me being at Ganassi for so many years, having so many teammates, it's nice to have a stable one thing. But see different styles of achieving and getting around it, it's pretty cool.
Q: With Rubens coming to his first oval here, if you were going to talk to him and give him one tip of advice on how to run ovals, what are the big key things you have to focus onto make it work here?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: He came around the bus two nights ago for a chat, brought chocolate with him, which was a good start (laughter). Scott and I both followed him and ran with him, what day would that have been, Tuesday, and just some of the stuff that he was doing. He was crossing way below the white line, middle of corner. Said, “Hey, you can't do that, this is what this is happening, having a chat.” He's so experienced, has such a good feel for the car, such a good driver. You just give him a little bit of advice that we've all had to have here at some point or other, and off he goes. He's absolutely world-class. I think, Alesi, as well, the engine is slow, but that has to do with the engine in the back. He's got the thing trimmed out. He drives the car very well around here. It's a shame he's not got more power to be up where he should be.
Q: Dario and Scott, this is the first time this car is going to go 500 miles. Talk about what your concerns are.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Hopefully going to go 500 miles (laughter). No, I mean, it's a completely new package. So we hope we know where the weak areas are. We've definitely, throughout testing and throughout the races, found out the areas we have defects. The engine manufacturers are pushing very hard, too, Honda, Chevy and Lotus. I think that's one thing people were shocked with this year when there were some engine issues. We got used to running with the Honda engine, it being 100 percent reliable. Now everyone is pushing the envelope, there's going to be some failures. We hope we'll be in good shape to run the 500 miles.
SCOTT DIXON: I agree. It's always hard with the new car. I think we were still having some small issues or mechanical failures from the old car. That was after many years. I think it's always the small niggly things that annoy you the most. If you're pushing it, trying to get the most out of it, something breaks, that happens. If it's a sensor that goes out, affects your race, it's disappointing. I think we've been lucky with low attrition rates over the past years, and the reliability, especially from Honda, teams working out the Dallara previously. I think the car has been pretty good so far, well-built, hopefully we don't have too many issues.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: I think to echo what both Scott and Dario said, for the first year, it's obviously well-built because we've had very, very limited problems. I have a huge amount of confidence in the whole Chip Ganassi Racing organization that they're going to see problems before they develop into issues, on track at least. They'll fix them before we even get to the racetrack. That's the key. That's where being part of this organization is a huge advantage, is they'll fix things before they're problems.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I think that's probably the biggest thing is what Charlie said. At this team, with all of us, with Chip Ganassi Racing, the one thing we can all be confident in is that our cars are going to be built to the highest standard and quality. You got to have the confidence in your guys, and we do. Really for us we'll get out there, drive as hard as we can. As Scott said, if it's something small that breaks, it annoys you. But if it's something that's out of your control because you're pushing hard, trying to win, these things happen. It's so new. The amount of issues we've had over the year are probably pretty limited. I think a lot of people after testing thought we would go in the first race and five cars would finish. Really, it's been a lot better than that. I've been quite impressed with it. I know our cars are going to be built to the highest standard, and we'll get out there and race hard. If something happens that's out of your control, that's not your problem. As Chip says, you do the obvious things right. If it's in our control, we have to make sure we cover our bases, and I think we'll do that.
Q: With all the adjustments you have to make today with the additional boost, trimming out for qualifying tomorrow, everybody has been out there in these big super packs, massive tow starting developing, how can you develop reliable data? How do you time it?
SCOTT DIXON: I think you'll see that change a bit today. At least I won't be looking for big packs when I'm all trimmed out. I think you're going to see some people still do that. Occasionally you get a lucky run where you come up behind a pack, tow up, get some big speeds, which all of us up here will take the opportunity. But today you'll see a little more strung out, people not looking for packs, looking to get some good aero data. Preferably, I think for us, we'll be looking to run by ourselves. Ideally, you want nobody on track. Seems with this car, another car on track, it could be on the opposite side of the track, you pick up a tow, speed, it seem as bit false. I will try to stay clear of that today. Maybe at the end sort of throw in a lucky one.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Like Dixon said, you want to stay clear. If nothing else, you don't want to fool yourself. You can get a tow from so far back. The other day I was actually running behind Scott, I was coming out of (Turn) 2, I could barely see his car go to the exit of (Turn) 3, still the car gets a little bit of a tow. You really want to make sure when you go in tomorrow that your expectations are correct. You don't want to think you're going to do a certain speed, you get out there and you don't. So you want to get out there and run clear. I think it's more important maybe today than it has been in previous years because in previous years, we knew when we went out there in qualifying setup, it was probably going to be pretty close, so much experience in that car. Today is going to be the first time we try it. Boost, it's going to be important to get clear running to see what you got.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming in. Appreciate it.