The last time a Rolex 24 At Daytona got under way without Chip Ganassi Racing on the entry list, Daytona Prototypes were making their Grand Am Rolex Series debut, George W. Bush was barely past the halfway point in his first term as president, and iTunes, Apple’s strange new streaming music service, was fumbling through its 2003 debut.
With CGR’s arrival in sports car racing for the 2004 Rolex 24 (pictured), an unbroken streak would continue through 2019, where its swansong as the factory team behind Ford’s GT Le Mans program ended without a follow-up effort being secured. Lacking a new manufacturer partnership to replace the Blue Oval, CGR is notably absent from the 38-car field that will go racing this weekend.
But, if the work being put in behind the scenes pays off, it will be a temporary hiatus — one year and no more — as CGR looks to make a speedy return to factory racing in DPi or GT Le Mans.
“We’re moving back in the direction of that, and had meetings recently about moving forward with sports car racing on the same scale as what we’ve had in the past,” said CGR managing director Mike Hull. “Probably with a different manufacturer, and that’s what we’ll work on next.”
Rumors abound on new DPi programs being readied for 2022 when the second-generation rules come into play. At least one new GTLM program is also said to be nearing an announcement. And then there’s one of the most coveted contracts in the series — Acura’s championship-winning DPi effort run by Team Penske, which reaches the end of its three-year term at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
It’s no secret that a number of teams would love to unseat Penske and receive a multi-year contract to takeover the Acura ARX-05 deal, and with its longstanding ties to Honda in IndyCar, CGR has been mentioned as a prime alternative to The Captain’s operation.
Whether it’s Acura or other brands in the DPi or GTLM categories, CGR has retained all but four of its Ford GT crew members, which would make staffing a new IMSA factory program much easier than if it had to start from scratch.
“We plan to be back in sports car racing, so we have to find a balance between our entry situation with IndyCar racing, and then what we would hope would be our entry situation in sports car racing again,” Hull continued. “So you have to look at the resource that we have that makes sense for us for manpower and so on. We’ve been in sports car racing for a long, long time, beginning in 2004, and we intend to be back there. People are hard to find, and proper people are harder to find.”
On a personal level, Hull expects to miss being on the timing stand as a strategist and the non-stop battles that have made the Rolex 24 such a rewarding event for CGR over the years.
“It will be a little different. And we’ve been committed to racing there for a long, long time. I’m going to miss that,” he admitted. “Really going to miss not staying up for 24 hours, but I’m going to be down there at the front end of that event and probably through some of the race weekend, because I have some meetings scheduled about the future for our race team there.
“That’s where everybody seems to gather, although I really dislike having meetings on race weekends like that, but that’s what we’re going to do. And I’ll watch some of the racing, and what I don’t get to watch [live], I’ll watch on television, like the fans do.”