The Chip Ganassi Racing sports car program is developing a new chassis for the first time in more than a decade, and as a team, the project continues to require excellence and honesty from every faction that’s involved.
Between the new partners associated with Ford’s return to international GT racing, and the general process of shaping a brand-new car into a position where it can fight with a variety of established GT manufacturers, the CGR team has a significant task on its hands.
Understanding the processes involved with developing the twin-turbo V6 GT has been an ongoing source of interest, and as CGR managing director Mike Hull explains, achieving Ford’s goals – at least at this early stage – involves an incredible amount of administration.
“When the most recent test was over, we spent quite a bit of time talking about what we each respectively thought the car needed next, what the priorities are, and really try our best to turn whatever happens on the track into detailed reports to work from,” Hull told RACER. “So what we do is with the two organizations, Chip Ganassi Racing and Ford, is to create oneness with so we can define priorities – what each of us thinks that we need. And what we find out from those debriefs is sometimes very different. Or we may find out that we have thoughts that are very much in common. You have all you take away from a day spent testing at the racetrack, and there are lap times and performance-related aspects to focus on, but it’s primarily a large information processing and organizing effort.”
Drivers and engineers are the most visible personnel during the new-car testing phase, but they aren’t the only voices that contribute to the development cycle. Input from mechanics, vendors associated with the project, and anyone else with intimate knowledge of the car is sought as Hull and CGR Ford team manager Mike O’Gara pool information.
“As an example, when we’re done running at the end of the day, we get the key people from each of the organizations involved with the car in the same room, talk about what happened during the day, how we solved the problems individually, and share what everyone found that could be done better,” Hull said.
“And we also do that periodically during the day, but at the end of the day we have a pretty long go at each other in terms of just understanding how we’re going to approach tomorrow. In this case, we’re partners in this thing all the way through the process, so the end goal here is to get ourselves as high up the grid as we can together, and that will only happen if we’re open with each other.”
Taking the Ford GT to a variety of tracks for pre-season testing has helped CGR log plenty of miles on the car, and with their recent visit to Sebring’s pounding road course, the team was presented with an opportunity to expose any weaknesses in the car. Hull believes that by fostering an environment where candid assessments of the car and its components are welcome after a grueling day of testing, the Ford GT will show up for its competition debut at Daytona in a better state of readiness.
“There’s no room really for gamesmanship when you’re trying to figure out how to create durability and how to create speed,” he said. “It can be the smallest thing. Say a mechanic fixes something that he finds on the car, but if he doesn’t tell his crew chief, and his crew chief doesn’t tell the engineer, then the engineer doesn’t tell the parallel engineer on the other car, and the next thing you know, that little problem isn’t addressed across all the cars and we jeopardize ourselves when it’s time to go race.
“If we have a problem in the transmission, as an example – or what we think may be a problem inside the transmission – we speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable. Because if it happens once, it will happen again. You have to create a system of unselfish checks and balances. That’s what we’ve got with Multimatic, with Ford, and everyone directly involved with everything that is going on. It is pretty cool.”
Hull also pointed to the team’s burgeoning relationship with tire supplier Michelin as an interesting new aspect of spearheading the Ford GT effort. Through CGR’s Daytona Prototype program, the team worked with different spec tire providers for more than a decade, yet with the switch to Ford’s GT and IMSA’s open-tire GT Le Mans class, the team has spent the off-season learning to work with the renowned French tire manufacturer.
“I’m not putting out a press release here when I say what I’m going to say, but it’s been fantastic,” Hull remarked. “You know, they have different compound tires for us, they go through the mix of tires, what they think will work best, what they don’t think will work… They are great because they have a very open mind, and they don’t tell you what you should do; they tell you what your options are.
“The relationship we’ve had with them for the tests we’ve done so far has been really terrific. When a tire technician for Michelin is integrated like they are into the process, and they show up with tires aired up and ready to go – which is a small thing – it’s really great. They are true partners in the process. It’s not fair to compare them to anybody else in the race tire business. They have their act together, and it’s great to be working with somebody that does.”