Eric Cowdin has returned to Chip Ganassi Racing, where he will serve as race engineer for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan on the No. 48 Honda.
Cowdin’s relationship with Kanaan dates back to the 1990s when they worked together in Indy Lights. Across multiple IndyCar teams, the two went on to achieve considerable success, including victory at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at KV Racing. The duo two joined CGR’s expanded team from 2014-2017, and moved to A.J. Foyt Racing from 2018-2019 before Cowdin accepted a post at Dale Coyne Racing to engineer rookie Alex Palou.
With Palou, Cowdin demonstrated his experience and skill developing a driver who was new to the series, new to every circuit on the calendar, and new to oval racing. Johnson faces similar obstacles in needing to learn a new car and most of the road and street courses he’ll visit, and Cowdin’s working style could be a perfect complement to the seven-time NASCAR champion’s learning curve.
“We’re excited that Eric was available,” CGR managing director Mike hull told RACER. “Unfortunately, when we lost him, we lost him to having to make some serious cuts and downsizing in our program, and we did it based on tenure at the time, not on ability, so I’m glad we could have him back. I was always impressed that if I was in the building first thing in the morning, Eric was already there with the lights on, and when I was ready to leave at night, if I was the last person standing, I always asked him to turn the lights off. He’s a really dedicated individual and has worked in some quality places in his racing lifetime, with some terrific drivers.”
Cowdin and Johnson have gotten a head start on the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season as Cup star has embarked on a junior open-wheel testing program overseen by CGR.
“When you match Eric’s skill set and that experience with the group that we have, he’s a big contributor,” Hull said. “We got a little jump start with him and with Jimmie on this Formula 3 program that we’ve been working on. So he’s been working with Jimmie with that at the race tracks, and that’s been a nice thing. So he’s a little bit ahead of the game there. And Eric’s spent time in the building with Jimmie as well as with the simulator. So we’re off to a good start with him.”
Hull also sees the decades-long relationship between Cowdin and Kanaan as something that can benefit Johnson. As he learns more about the specialized nature of driving an IndyCar at its limit, the shorthand that exists between the IndyCar veterans can only help Johnson to grasp the nuances found with a new form of racing.
“The past relationship that he’s had with TK will prove beneficial for all of us,” Hull said. “We won’t have to take time to understand the language, the technical language barrier, that makes such a large difference on high-speed ovals, and their connection will help Jimmie, because he can learn a lot from listening to them talk about the car and what it needs from them. He won’t be left figuring it all out on his own, which is a good thing for all of us.”
Like Cowdin, Palou also joined CGR during the offseason. He’ll have team veteran Julian Robertson engineering the No. 10 Honda.
“If you think about it, it’s very similar situations where we have experience with Julian Robertson, who is working with Alex in his second year in IndyCar,” Hull said. “So there’s lots of years of making engineering decisions that will benefit Alex as he gains more knowledge in the series. And Eric the same with Jimmie. We’ve matched up engineering experience with people that are trying to gain driving experience, and they’re surrounded by a good group of people. We’ve always been a team; we haven’t relied on one person, or a person of prominence, to either take the credit or ask for the credit. They feed off each other, and that’s the definition of everybody in the building, all the team members. And in particular, you can say that about Eric.”