Q&A with Ganassi's Mike Hull
MIKE HULL: You're welcome. It's great to be with you guys.
Q. Mike is one of the key members of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing organization, having overseen six open‑wheel titles -- four in the CART series and two in the IndyCar Series -- a pair of Indianapolis 500 victories, and numerous race wins, including Scott Dixon's 20th IndyCar Series victory last weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The first question: You've called each of Scott's wins in the IndyCar Series. How satisfying was it to the entire team to get that all‑time win record?
MIKE HULL: Well, I think the word that you used in there toward the end of the question was team. First of all, everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing pulls together as a group, as a team, and we rely on each other to make it happen. And over the years, having Scott ‑‑ in the IndyCar Series since 2003 actually with Scott, winning his first race with us in the IndyCar Championship at Homestead, it was a team then. It's a group of cohesive people that work well together, and I think that defines who we are and it's been very satisfying to be able to do that.
Q. Scott has been with the team since 2003, as you said, and it even goes back to, I believe, 2002 in the Champ Car.
MIKE HULL: Yeah, that's right. He joined us at the CART Milwaukee event in June of 2002, and has been with us since then, yeah. Been a great relationship.
Q. What's made him such a good fit with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and more specifically the No. 9 car?
MIKE HULL: Well, first of all, I think the simple answer is he remembers where he came from. He's the same person today that he was when he joined us in 2002. He wants to race cars for a living. That's all he cares about. That's what he wants to do.
I don't want to say this in what might sound like maybe to some people's mind a selfish way, but he doesn't have outside interests. You know, he has his family and a new addition to his family now, but even with that, he still concentrates 100 percent on what he wants to do. He gets paid to drive race cars, but you know what, this guy would drive race cars anyway.
I would be willing to bet that if I would have been lucky enough to be with him when he grew up in New Zealand that he would have been at that time the same person then driving a race car, a Formula Vee, where he started, as opposed to where he is today in an IndyCar (Series car). That's what makes him so special and so much fun to have driving the car.
Q. Your team also added another champion driver this year, Dario Franchitti. What has his impact been on the overall team?
MIKE HULL: Very positive. The dimension that he brings is very motivating. He offers a lot in terms of how to make the cars better, both his and Scott's. He offers a perspective which is fresh for us. He has an intense desire to win, but often times that's not enough. What you need with that desire is a willingness to work with the resource totally across the board, all the team members, to make the program better each day, and Dario possesses all that without a doubt.
And then beyond that, when you have two high‑strung teammates like we have, they have to be very unselfish. There has to be give and take, but at the same time, they have to be willing to tell each other everything in front of the group. And these two guys do that very, very well. They don't hold anything close to the vest. They talk about everything that goes on with their cars and what they see on the racetrack.
That has made us better this year, and Dario is certainly part of that reason.
Q. That brings up the next part of the question. The final four races of the season, and obviously the two Target Chip Ganassi Racing teams are definitely among the cars chasing that title. When you're on the box on the No. 9 car, does the fact that you're racing the No. 10 car affect the way you call a race?
MIKE HULL: I think it doesn't affect what we do from our timing stand, but it's nice to have a teammate out there that is reading the racetrack, that is going the same speeds that the No. 9 car is going. But yet at the same time, if they're together on the racetrack, you know they're going to be a little more liberal with each other than they would be racing somebody else.
So the give and take on the racetrack is very fair. It's not edgy. You know, you're not purposely being blocked. Somebody isn't screwing with you on the race track. You know darn well when you're out there wheel‑to‑wheel with your teammate you're going to get a fair shake on the racetrack, but at the same time you're racing your teammate, let's face it.
Whichever of our drivers wins the race is good for all of us on the team. And if they finish first and second ‑‑ if you could tell us before we started the last four races that those guys could run together at the front for every race, we'd just leave the cars in the truck. So it's fun to go find out what will happen.
Q. The points lead in the championship has changed 12 times in the 13 previous races. The lead from Scott to Dario is 20 points. In April when the season started if I told you that would be the case for your title defense, would you have believed that the competition would be this close?
MIKE HULL: Well, you know, at the beginning of the year we had kind of an uphill battle with Scott. You know, if people would have looked at us at the beginning of the year with where we were in the points situation, they would have said, 'Man, Scott is already erased. You know, let's just etch him out of here.'
So I don't think the difference in points really matters. The only ‑‑ what matters with the difference in points is what happens when the checkered flag falls at Homestead.
Our drivers will work extremely hard to win the four races that we have left, and they'll work hard by doing that to gather points. And at the end we'll see what happens. It isn't just ‑‑ and I would say there's other people that we're racing on the racetrack here; it isn't our two guys.
And the great thing about what we're doing is the people that have an opportunity to win the championship at this point are all quality people. You know when you race with them it'll work out fine. It'll be good.
Q. One of those other drivers you mentioned is a guy who got his start with your team, Ryan Briscoe. Does his emergence with Team Penske surprise you knowing him like you do?
MIKE HULL: Not at all. The very first time we tested him at Firebird Racetrack in Phoenix (in 2005), we knew he was the real deal. That followed up, we did two days at Firebird with him and then two days at PIR (Phoenix International Raceway) on the oval.
Right from the beginning he was not only on the pace, but he has that unique ability to make a difference. He's a difference maker, that's what he is. He's a genuine guy out of the car, and he's a positive guy in the car. He's good for the series, he's good for the championship, and he's a world‑class driver. He's a world caliber driver. He could drive any race car in any series at the front, he has that much ability.
It doesn't surprise us in the least that he's doing what we knew he was capable of doing.
Q. You might have touched on this a little earlier, but I know that over the weekend Scott mentioned that last year the team started to points race instead of chase race wins last year, and he thought that strategy was a bit of a mistake. How do you kind of temper a driver like that by going race by race against looking at that big picture of the championship?
MIKE HULL: You know, that's hard to do. You see it happen all the time. Sometimes you race in your rear view mirror instead of racing down the front of your car. I think the only way to overcome that is just to work on the next lap or to work on the first day for the practice session and then work for qualifying and then work for the race warm‑up and then work for the race. You have to take a more systematic approach to what you're doing and just concentrate on the task at hand. That takes you away from the mentality of chasing points. As long as we keep pinching ourselves and reminding ourselves to breathe, we'll be OK in that area.
Q. The next race is at Infineon Raceway. It's the last road course of the season. How important, other than it being the next race in the championship, how important is it to score points on a road race with the wild card of three 1.5‑mile ovals coming up?
MIKE HULL: I mean, Mid‑Ohio was pivotal and important. Sonoma will be the same. I think every race in terms of how you stack up when the race is over is important to where you're going to be at the end of 2009.
Sonoma is a tough racetrack. It's a technical place. It's a drivers' track. Besides what the viewers would see on television or if they're lucky enough to be there in person in terms of elevation change and the type of racetrack that it actually is, there's very little opportunity for passing. So you have to work really, really hard to have your car right, so when you have that opportunity you can take advantage of it.
You have to work to make your car extremely good for a long run, because the pit sequence strategy there really doesn't want you or allow you in the pits every time the track goes full course yellow. You have to choose those moments.
So your car has to be good for a long run so the driver and the engineer and the guys have a lot to do with getting the car right for the race. That's the key. Not that the other races aren't like that, but Sonoma lends itself to that philosophy very much from the very beginning of the weekend.
Q. Mid‑Ohio was the debut of the overtake assist button on a road course. How much do you think that plays into the driver's hands on a track like Sonoma?
MIKE HULL: I think when used correctly, it can help you. What I like about it, irrespective of Sonoma, is the fact that through partnership, the Indy Racing League, Honda and the race teams are working to try to make the racing better than it is now. And I think what's been lost in translation here a little bit is the fact that the racing is good already.
And what this does is it makes the racing crisper. It makes it more fun to watch. But if they did nothing at all, we still have great racing.
I don't know if I've been put off by some of the things that I've read because it's probably exactly the opposite, but I think we need to clearly define what we already have, and IndyCar racing is a great place to race, and the racing is very, very competitive. Road racing in particular is exciting to watch, and with Push‑to‑Pass, I can say with Scott at Mid‑Ohio that we did use it, and it did help us during the race.
I know at Sonoma given the right moment, it will help us there, too, or someone else. So it's definitely an asset to what we do.
Q. And as I mentioned earlier, the last three races of the season are 1.5‑mile ovals although different 1.5‑mile ovals with Motegi, Chicago and Homestead. What kind of racing do you foresee with the aero changes that have been made in recent races?
MIKE HULL: Well, I think Kentucky historically has never been a pack race. It's always seemed like there's been somebody that broke away, and it was kind of a spread‑out deal, and the full course yellow has brought it back together, but even so, it's still spread out. And I'm not sure what the reason is for that. It doesn't mean that the racing there wasn't always good, it just was a different kind of one‑and‑a‑half‑mile oval race, whereas Chicago and Homestead in particular with the changes that they've made should be exciting. It should be really, really good, because the changes are very positive for racing.
What they've done is they've allowed the turbulence to be lessened so that a driver trailing another driver can get enough momentum to get a run either on the inside or the outside. He may not ‑‑ that driver may not clearly be able to make the pass, but you know what, they get up alongside, and the racing is genuine then, more like what we want to see. Although we might not have fingernails left on the timing stand at the end, it's still the kind of racing that we need to display, because the audience deserves that.
So I think Homestead and Chicago and most likely Motegi will lend itself to be better than Kentucky was.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate your time today, and thank you for taking the time to join us today.
MIKE HULL: You're welcome. It's great to be with you guys. We appreciate it very, very much.
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