Ganassi Racing dropped a major bombshell on the IndyCar Series last month at Houston when it announced it was switching from Honda to Chevy power for 2014. The possibility of a manufacturer change with its Daytona Prototype program has been less of a secret, and after a busy few months of negotiations between the team, BMW, and Ford, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has chosen the Blue Oval as its new partner.
Starting next season in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, CGRwFS will field the Telcel-sponsored No. 01 Riley-Ford utilizing the brand’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 and Ford’s new DP bodywork. Multiple Rolex Series champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas will continue their longstanding partnership as the team takes on primary development responsibilities for the EcoBoost turbo program.
?Ganassi Racing totally embraces the changes that we have in front of us,? Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told RACER of the move to Ford. ?Anybody that doesn’t accept change in motor racing better get off the train, quite honestly. I think what happens in racing, generally, is race teams that are in it for the long-term work really, really hard with their partners to create multi-year situations
?And when it’s time to evaluate where they’re going for the next several years, they do the same thing again. So in this case with Ford we sat down, we looked at everything carefully, we looked at the future, the future direction for sports car racing in North America and the partnership that could be created with Ford, and decided it was a good opportunity for us.?
CGRwFS claimed three consecutive DP titles using Steve Dinan-prepared BMWs, and came close to earning a fourth championship last season. BMW had been expecting to continue with CGRwFS, and like Honda in the IndyCar Series, the German marque was surprised to learn it could lose its flagship team. It’s believed that BMW’s annual support package has been reduced for 2014, making the commercial incentives offered by Ford especially appealing to the Ganassi outfit.
With a lucrative, multi-year EcoBoost deal catching BMW off guard, Ganassi told RACER last week he and BMW continued to negotiate on an extension, but the team ultimately chose to go with Ford.
That decision was made easier after the American brand made a fundamental shift in its approach to sports car racing. Questions regarding Ford’s commitment to sports car racing, and specifically the Grand-Am Rolex Series, were prevalent in 2013. Citing a lack of development to keep pace with Chevy and BMW, Starworks Motorsports dropped Ford at the midpoint of the championship, leaving only the Michael Shank Racing team to fly Ford’s flag.
Starworks’ move to BMW power netted two immediate wins, further highlighting the performance gap that Ford, which went winless in 2013, was suffering. With a new engine and body package to promote in 2014, Ford was faced with either ramping up its effort with an infusion of funds and at least one additional team to complement its existing partners at MSR, or continuing to dip its proverbial toes in the DP water.
Thankfully, as Ford Racing boss Jamie Allison explained to RACER, the marque has gone all-in with the EcoBoost DP effort, allowing them to secure the services of CGRwFS.
?It’s really spot-on way of putting it: as manufacturer, Ford is typically as seen by the fans and the media as a factory presence,? he said. ?And there usually isn’t a privateer status in professional motorsports with Ford Motor Company, but that has kind of been our DP program; it was largely supporting Roush Yates who build and supply the Ford engines to teams on our behalf.
?Along the way we got to thinking that when you’re on the track, people don’t distinguish a commercial program and the factory-backed program. When you’re on the track and you’re Ford Motor Company, it’s all out there. At the end of the day, our conclusion was that we need to be all-in and it was actually perfect timing with the progression of the unified series to make this commitment.?
Signing CGRwFS, which brings a formidable amount of human and technical resources to expedite the EcoBoost program’s development, will help Ford in multiple areas, according to Allison.
?The other foundation is motorsports is a marketing program. It’s an opportunity to engage our fans, tell our story, showcase our products. And to me, the unified series made it more compelling for us as a company to invest and to indeed build a championship caliber team on sports car racing. So that was really the encapsulated this expanded program and allowed us to bring the Ganassi team into the family along with Michael Shank.?
As Mike Hull recently told RACER, the Ganassi team would like to add a second prototype to run alongside the No. 01 car, but for now, a single Riley-Ford is set for a full-season campaign. A second CGRwFS car is expected for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but additional funding will be required to keep the car on-track throughout the 11-race schedule.
The Shank program, which fielded two Ford V8-powered Rileys in 2013, will have one EcoBoost turbo entry for the full championship, and is working on acquiring the drivers and sponsorship necessary to keep its second car on the grid in 2014.
Although the leadership has changed within the Ford Racing hierarchy, this isn’t the first time Ganassi and Ford have worked together. Ganassi’s CART Indy car program used Ford/Cosworth power from 1992-1995 before moving to Honda, and for 53-year-old Ganassi driver Scott Pruett, the return to Ford is an even bigger deal.
?A lot of people just don’t know about my history with Ford,? Pruett told RACER. ?I was with Ford in ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88 in [SCCA] Trans-Am and [IMSA] GTO. And then in ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98 I was with Ford Cosworth power in Indy cars. And then when I went to NASCAR it was also a Ford factory Yates program. So that just kind of ties the bow around sports cars, Indy cars and NASCAR for me ” all Ford.
?The majority of my time in a racing car, for my entire professional career, has been with that Ford badge on the hood or on the cam cover, and that really means something to me. My career essentially started with Ford, and to be back with them at this stage of my career?I could not have asked for anything better. It’s the perfect homecoming.?
With the relative lateness of the Ganassi/Ford partnership coming together, CGRwFS says it will miss the upcoming November tests at Sebring and Daytona, but plans are afoot to debut the blue and white Ford EcoBoost DP during a Riley test day in early December.