At 53, Scott Pruett knows he has more racing in his rearview mirror than laps waiting to be turned. Armed with a new, Ford EcoBoost-powered Daytona Prototype to race into the proverbial sunset, Pruett didn’t bother trying to contain his enthusiasm when the partnership between his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team inked a multi-year deal to lead Ford’s reinvigorated sports car program.
He’ll chase his sixth Drivers’ title in 2014 with teammate Memo Rojas once the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship kicks off in January, and sat down with RACER to chronicle his long and winding history with Ford before a busy pre-season of testing and development begins.
?A lot of people ” and it’s probably just because I’ve been racing so long ” a lot of people don’t know my story with Ford,? he said. ?They don’t know how much I’ve won while sitting in a Ford. They don’t know how many championships I’ve won. My first relationship with Ford Motor Company was through Michael Kranefuss. And that was in ’82, ’83. And in the fall of ’83, he arranged for me to go test the front-engine Mustang GTP car at Elkhart Lake. That was my first ever real serious opportunity to drive a big car ever, ever in my life. I was coming right out of karts, nothing in between. Pretty crazy.
?So then in ’85, I’m doing the Mazda thing in IMSA with an RX-7, I’m trying to make a name for myself, then Michael Kranefuss calls and asks if I’d like to do a couple of races. So my first race with Ford was at Elkhart Lake in ’85 with Bruce Jenner. We should have won that race, but we had an alternator belt come off.
?And then the next race I go with Darin Brassfield for Brooks Frybarger in the IMSA Ford Thunderbird, and we won Pocono. My second race with Ford… It was pretty magical stuff. And then ’86, ’87, ’88 we won four championships in three years. They helped arrange a test for me in Formula 1 with the Larrousse-Calmels team. That happened in ’87 when I was trying to figure out if I was going to do Indy car or Formula 1. I ended up going to Indy car and I eventually won my first race with Ford Cosworth power.?
Pruett’s karting-to-driving-a-prototype baptism aside, he quickly mastered the V8- and turbo-powered IMSA GTO and SCCA Trans-Am cars Jack Roush built and ran for Ford. Some were badged as Mustangs, others as Mercury Capris and he even piloted the oddly named Merkur XR4Ti (RIGHT) for the company.
Similar to what Chevy has done recently with Jordan Taylor, who has been moved across Daytona Prototype, Pirelli World Challenge and the Corvette Racing program, Pruett was Ford’s utility man for the latter half of the ’80s. From silhouettes to open-wheel to prototypes, Pruett was constantly on the move as the marque went after numerous championships each season.
?That’s exactly what it was like back then,? added Pruett. ?So I drove the Applicon GTP car (LEFT), what they called the Ford Probe. I drove obviously in ’86, the IMSA championship, and then part time with Trans-Am to help them win the championship. In ’87, it was going after the Trans-Am championship and running part-time in IMSA. And then back in ’88, it was IMSA full-time and part-time with the Manufacturers’ championship in Trans-Am?
?Before that, my first ever Trans-Am race for Ford was at Riverside in ’86, I showed up there the morning of the race because I just flew in from Charlotte, where I had an IMSA race. Flew in that morning, joined the SCCA that morning, started last, went out and won the race. At that point, I was a kid nobody knew, but it made a pretty big statement on what was to come in this relationship with Ford.
?Because of them, I was doing a lot of racing, won a championship each year for Ford and really saw my career take off on a professional level almost overnight. It was GTO, GTP, Trans-Am and we won for Ford. I was a hard-core, hard-core Ford guy in those days, with Roush and the Ford Motor Company and Lincoln Mercury as well in the ’80s. And then we got back together again in 1994 and that continued into the 2000s.?
At this stage of his career, a major change in the CGRwFS DP program could be more work than a veteran driver was looking for, but Pruett says he looks forward to a fresh challenge with the unproven EcoBoost platform.
?That’s the Ganassi way, actually,? he noted. ?And most certainly, when we took the challenge to take on a Riley chassis back in 2003, I drove it, I raced it. We put the thing together heading to Daytona for the first test. Nobody knew the Lexus engine at that point in time. It was unproven. Wasn’t sure how that was going to go. And moving from Lexus to the BMW, I would say there was a little bit of a question mark. Certainly not as big, but unproven. I think up to that point they had one win.
?So this is not uncharted territory for any of us. However, when you look at the partners that are involved, when you look at Ganassi and what we do with a team, across the board, IndyCar, NASCAR, sports car, it’s the pinnacle of racing. I mean, that is for a mechanic, for a driver, for an engineer; Ganassi is one of those teams at the top that when the phone rings, you pick it up, you go to work for them. You’ve got Ganassi, you’ve got Penske, you got Hendrick. Those are the teams at the top.
?And so you look at Ganassi and then you look at Roush Yates and what they achieved. Jack’s been around a long time. Yates, same thing. And then they join forces and it happens to be this incredible dynamic group of just guys that have been in the engine business for 30, 40 years. They know how to get it done. This is one that’s been around as long as almost anybody. How many guys are still around from the early 80s and still winning like they are? You look at Ford and that dynamic and what they bring to the party and it’s hard not to get excited about developing this new EcoBoost package.?
Pruett’s clearly overjoyed to be back in the Ford family. His CART Indy car wins came with Ford Cosworth power behind him, his initial foray into NASCAR came with Ford and his legacy in sports cars with Ford is unparalleled. What Pruett doesn’t have, after Colin Braun, Ford and Michael Shank Racing recently accomplished during their record run at Daytona, is his name on a closed-course speedway lap record.
If and when Ford decides to move the bar to 230mph or above, Pruett says he’s their man.
?If you look at how many poles that I have on superspeedways in Indy cars, it was a lot,? he remarked. ?I had a lot of poles. And, in fact, my last race I was hired by a different manufacturer, we snuck in a pole at Fontana in ’99. Knowing how to trim the car out, knowing how to get the most out of it, was one of my specialties?if Ford lets us do it, damn straight I’ll be there!?