Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the online betting world might have Chip Ganassi Racing positioned as the team to beat in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Just don’t tell the team.
With plenty of fans and even some of CGR’s rivals speaking their name as the ones who are most likely to win, the team’s managing director says it’s precisely the kind of conjecture they don’t want to hear.
“We’re certainly not aware of [being the favorites],” Mike Hull said. “If we stopped to think about what you’re talking about, it would be so paralyzing we wouldn’t be able to do anything, so no, we don’t really think about that too much. We’ve always operated that way and we operate that way across all levels of what we do in all forms of racing that we do.
“When we come to work every day, we live by the adage that we just have to get the most out of today, so everybody that’s at the racetrack — we’ve always tried to keep things very practical. It’s a pretty simple formula. It’s not complicated for us.”
With Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, on pole again for CGR and teammate Alex Palou, the reigning IndyCar champion, alongside him on the front row, the two fastest drivers in the field are also the darlings of the oddsmakers. As the fastest and most consistent team in the field since the opening day of practice, Ganassi’s five-car armada, with 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan, oval master Jimmie Johnson, and the highly effective Marcus Ericsson rounding out the roster, has cast an imposing shadow over the field.
It’s been a while since CGR’s last Indy win—it came a decade ago with Dario Franchitti—which makes the return to form a welcome reality for the team. That’s the strange thing, though — the winner of the Indy 500 is rarely found within the team that steamrolls its way through practice and qualifying. It does happen on occasion, but it’s somewhat rare, and that’s why Hull isn’t in the mood to dwell on how CGR has done leading up to The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.
“The race isn’t over yet,” he said. “So let’s wait to pass judgment on who gets to the front who stays there on race day. We’ve had a good week of practice, and we had a great qualifying week, and there’s no question about that. But we still have to get through 200 laps here in one piece, and at the front, and if we if we’re lucky enough to be able to do that, with good stops, [with] strategy and common sense prevailing in terms of what we do…
“We work really, really hard on Indianapolis every year. Some years we’re on point and some years we look at each other thinking, ‘Man, how did we miss on this thing?’ For as hard as we’ve worked, it’s a testament to everybody that works in the building, travels to the racetrack and supports the team — the five drivers that we have took full advantage of everything that we had.”
Without putting too fine of a point on it, Hull’s comments speak to a rise in CGR’s Indy 500 competitiveness that, when compared to the talent, work, and effort expended in previous years where they weren’t quite as sharp, is no different. All of the top teams work themselves to the point of exhaustion for Indy and spend vast portions of their budgets on engineering R&D projects aimed at winning America’s defining motor race, so when a team like CGR finds itself locked into an impressive groove, the reason is often found in an unexpected area.
“The most I’m gonna say is this is probably the most unselfish group of drivers, in all the years I’ve worked for Chip, that I’ve ever witnessed,” Hull said, offering a glimpse of how CGR’s driver chemistry could be the catalyst on display. “You know, I don’t know what will happen if it comes down to five guys at the end of the race, but they have shared so equally, and everything that they’ve thought about, and they’re so open minded and it’s not group-think. They think about everything that goes on and they share.
“But then what happened [in qualifying] — just to give you an idea — was that we had [five] drivers in the [Fast 12]; all cars were sitting in that qualifying line with exactly the same downforce on the cars; [same] wing angles. Ericsson goes first; reads the racetrack for Palou. Palou takes two degrees out of the rear wing and they match the front wing setting. He goes out; reads the racetrack for Dixon. They take two degrees out of Dixon’s rear wing and match the front. That’s how much they help each other.
“That’s across the engineering groups on the timing stands and that contribution continues. It can continue today. It was all last week. They work together, they went out together on the racetrack to try to help each other understand how their cars pull up. What I’m saying is: They didn’t care who got the big lap; they wanted to help each other get in the race on Sunday, so it’s been very gratifying to see that up close. I’ve never seen that, even on our team, like that.”