Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull credits Scott Dixon for pushing the NTT IndyCar Series team to try something new and ambitious within its engineering group.
Leaving a 2019 season where Dixon’s No. 9 Honda made two trips to victory lane amid 10 podium visits, the 39-year-old asked if a new layer of engineering support might improve upon their run to fourth in the championship to something closer to normal. With five titles in hand, including two with race engineer Chris Simmons in 2015 and 2018, the concept of elevating Simmons to a new position of all-encompassing performance management was hatched.
If Dixon’s outright dominance Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway is anything to go by, along with teammate Felix Rosenqvist coming within 10 laps of authoring a CGR 1-2 finish, and the potential shown by newcomer Marcus Ericsson in the third CGR entry, Simmons’ reassignment is paying off in meaningful ways.
“To this point, there’s some validity in what we’re doing, and not only with Scott, but also with Felix and also with Marcus,” Hull told RACER. “We caused a problem for Marcus at the end of the race (ran out of fuel) and he had come from 17th to 10th and probably would’ve finished eighth or ninth. And his car was as good as his Felix’s and Scott’s.
“So I think overall, the changes in engineering structure provided us a better result than it has in quite a long time as a team. And we also moved a lot with some other people around in the process of what we were doing with having a third Indy car entry and not having a sports car team. We had a lot of depth of talent that we’ve utilized there also, so it’s been a lot of changes working together.”
To fill Simmons’ void on Dixon’s timing stand, CGR hired veteran race engineer Michael Cannon, whose experience across big and small IndyCar teams brought a new influence to the operation. After years of engineering with the former CGR Ford GT IMSA program, the return of Brad Goldberg to IndyCar with Ericsson, along with other engineering personnel from the defunct sports car program, added to the impact within the group.
Combined with technical director Julian Robertson who leads the engineering team on Rosenqvist’s car, the modified assembly of engineering talent performed as Hull and Dixon expected.
“Anytime you make a change, there is certainly an adjustment period, but I think it provides fresh thinking,” Hull added. “When you’re involved in a team structure, and it doesn’t matter what sport it is or what business it is, you have a tendency to have group think. And when you promote people or move people or redefine their roles, what it does is it makes the entire group think more fully about how they can support the change. And let’s face it, we’re going through a lot of change at this moment in our lives.
“We had worked really, really hard with a lot of internal structural changes well before we got to Texas, and we saw some confirmation of what we’re doing. I think we at least proved to ourselves that we were fairly decent.”
With Dixon’s pace in qualifying where he started second, and leading 157 of 200 laps on the way to victory, Cannon added another win to his tally. It was an overdue occasion, following his last which came with Robert Doornbos in 2007 at the San Jose Champ Car race with the tiny Minardi Team USA squad.
“Chris adapted to his role very quickly, and he’s made believers in all the people that he works with in that role, which is really, really good. Secondly, I was amazed at, and I could truly see, the competitive nature of Michael Cannon,” Hull added. “He has such a desire to better himself and better the people around him. He was so disappointed in a competitive manner that we didn’t get the pole at Texas. He didn’t shrug it off as, ‘OK, we’re going to start second,’ he was disappointed that we didn’t start first. Then in the race itself, he was so genuinely excited about winning.
“I was really, really impressed with his demeanor after the race and how important he thought it was. He said, ‘This team is all about its resource of people. All teams have people, but this team works together. That to me from the very first day is what’s inspired me to work so hard here.’
“I think we take it for granted, but it’s nice to hear it. I’m very impressed with his work ethic, with how he approaches problems, with how he wants to solve problems. Hopefully we can repeat what we did in Texas a couple of times this year with him.”