You already know that Ford Chip Ganassi Racing not only won the GTE Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but did it on the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT overall win at Le Mans in 1966.
How did a car that only ran its first race in January, the Rolex 24 At Daytona – and had a pretty dismal outing there – not only beat the Ferraris, Porsches, Chevrolet Corvettes and Aston Martins, but finish first, third and fourth in class?
Logically, you have to trace the success back to Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. On Ganassi’s web page, it says at the top: “18 drivers. 14 cars. 6 series.” It’s a massive organization, with entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, IndyCar, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Xfinity series, the World Endurance Championship, and the Red Bull Global Rallycross series.
Managing all that, and winning, is what Ganassi does. In 2011, the Ganassi one-two finish at the Rolex 24 At Daytona made Ganassi the first team owner to win the Rolex 24, the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 in one twelve-month span. Now he’s added the 24 Hours of Le Mans to his resume.
What’s his secret?
If you’re fortunate enough to take a tour of the Chip Ganassi Racing shop in Indianapolis, where the new Ford GTs that race in the WeatherTech Championship are maintained, alongside Ganassi’s IndyCar program, you’ll notice a few things.
One, that the place is spotless. Two, that it’s packed to capacity. And three, that it’s startlingly calm in there – though deadlines loom, no one is shouting, rushing about, tossing tools around – the mechanics and engineers and the other specialists just seem to be going about their jobs as any craftsman would. There may be pressure, but there is no panic.
If you’re looking for secrets to Chip Ganassi’s success, you won’t find them down here on the floor. One level up, in the offices, you might. In a corner office is Mike Hull, managing director for the Indianapolis-based Ganassi programs – the NASCAR division is in North Carolina. On IndyCar race day, his main job is serving as race strategist for Scott Dixon, but it’s safe to say that Hull is the strategist for everything that comes out of this shop.
A couple of doors down is Mike O’Gara. In February of 2014, O’Gara became team manager for the Ganassi Daytona Prototype cars, which used the same twin-turbo Ford EcoBoost V6 engines that now supply power to the Ford GTs. He had rejoined Ganassi after four years at Sarah Fisher’s IndyCar team, at a time when, just days earlier, both Ganassi DP cars fell out of the Rolex 24, a race that the team usually either won or contended for the win. In his first race back though, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, victory did not elude the team, and Chip Ganassi was able to scratch another major race off of his list.
O’Gara has been the hands-on leader for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, and he, Hull and Chip Ganassi himself made the calls for the four-car Ganassi Ford GT team – two of the cars are based in Indianapolis, and the other two are based in England – but communication is so tight that this is really one four-car team. Likely because of the WeatherTech Championship schedule that gave the team far more actual race time than the British team got in the WEC, the two U.S.-based cars finished first and third.
The two Indy-based cars were packed with talented drivers: In the winning No. 68 were Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Muller, who qualified the car on the pole. In No. 69 were Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook, all selected from what Hull said were hundreds of interested, and some very qualified, drivers from most every racing series in the world.
And that, we’d submit, is Ganassi’s secret: People. Get the best, leave them alone.
Chip Ganassi “knows how to get the job done,” says Dave Pericak, director of Ford Performance. “You only have to look at his record. He surrounds himself with good people and lets them do their job.” Certainly there’s more to it than that, but Ganassi seems to excel at putting the right people in the right places.
As rewarding as a Le Mans victory is, the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team still has the balance of the WeatherTech Championship ahead of them, beginning with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, which is what the name says: A six-hour endurance race at the newly resurfaced, 3.4-mile Watkins Glen International Raceway on June 30.
Not only is the Ford GT the Le Mans class champion, but the most recent GT Le Mans class winner, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The No. 67 car (it ran as the No. 69 at Le Mans) with Westbrook and Briscoe gave the Ford GT its first win, and a lot of momentum going into Le Mans. That car, as well as the Le Mans-winning team of Hand and Mueller in the No. 66, are on the entry list for the Sahlen’s Six Hours.
There are, in fact, 42 cars on the entry list, which should make this one of the most exciting races of the year. It’s the first time back for the Tequila Patrón ESM team that won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the first two races in the North American Endurance Cup, which will be won by top finishers in the four longest races – Daytona, Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours and the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The Sahlen’s Six Hours weekend is packed with events besides the WeatherTech Championship – there’s the Continental Tire 150 at the Glen for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series, as well as the Mazda Prototype Lites, the Porsche GT3 Cup USA, the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada, and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series. For more information, log onto IMSA.com.