Q&A with Target Chip Ganassi Team at Indy
Q&A with Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti
MODERATOR: We're delighted to have Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull with us; Mike Hull, the managing director, individuals who know something about winning here; along with two drivers who know about not only winning here at Indianapolis, but also winning IZOD IndyCar Series championships.
First of all, Chip, thank you for taking the time with us. Chip, I was thinking about this conference today and I thought, wouldn't it be something if you could -- you know where I'm going with this, don't you?
CHIP GANASSI: It would be something, wouldn't it?
MODERATOR: Obviously, started the year in just fabulous fashion winning the Daytona 500 with Jamie McMurray, and you've got two guys that are capable of doing it. That has to have crossed your mind with some regularity.
GANASSI: It's certainly crossed my mind, and I try to stay focused on the job at hand and let other people think about those kind of things. I'm just worried about the task at hand. That's kind of the way I look at it. It means nothing, so let's just focus on what we're supposed to be focused on here.
MODERATOR: It's a big prize, indeed. Mike, I was thinking about you today as I walked up, and there were two things that came to mind for me in terms of this month. One is we've got a new qualifying procedure, which is going to be very interesting. Secondly, I was thinking from an engineering point of view, we've had this kind of weather constantly days on end, and then discussions about sunny and 75, 80, depending on what forecast you look for the weekend. I can't pull much hair out, but if I had hair, and I was in your position, that's exactly what I would be doing now. So how about those two challenges for you?
MIKE HULL: I think it's actually a lot better. Normally we run -- I know the weather is always a factor at Indianapolis, but it seems like for the last few years every Saturday morning we've been sitting here wondering is it going to rain, is it not going to rain, is it cold, is the wind going to blow? At least it's going to be a great day. So I think the people sitting here as well as everybody up and down pit lane and the people that are going to come and watch this thing unfold on Saturday are going to be excited about the fact they can wear a T-shirt and come out here and watch this thing happen. It's great for us that the weather is going to be conducive to being able to run all day long.
MODERATOR: Good deal. Dario, a couple days late, but happy birthday. You've had a very solid month so far, and talk about your thoughts going into pole qualifying day.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think today is the day for us that we're really going to find out what we've got in terms of a set qualifying setup. We've worked really on race stuff up until now. Yesterday, Scott and I were doing race runs together right up until the last minute, and then we swapped over to qualifying trim and the rain came. So we don't quite know what we've got yet for that. We feel quite comfortable with the Target car, both the 9 and the 10, I think, in race trim. We don't quite know what we've got for qualifying yet. So today is going to be an interesting day. The forecasters are getting it wrong almost a hundred (percent) of the time it looks like because they said yesterday was going to be dry, today was going to rain, and it hasn't quite come that way yet. But, as we know about Indianapolis, it's kind of like Scotland; if you want the weather to change, just hang on five minutes and it's liable to happen.
MODERATOR: Is that true as well for New Zealand, Scott?
SCOTT DIXON: It is, actually. I think we get four seasons in one day, as well. It's been a tough week, I think, obviously with the compressed schedule and then trying to work out what we need to attack first-hand. Obviously, race setup is the most important I think on our side just to make sure we have great cars in the race, qualifying. Hopefully we can trim out a good race car and it's going to work fairly well in qualifying trim. But we've really only done kind of a half go and attempt maybe not yesterday but the day before. So there was definitely a few cars yesterday getting some qualifying trims in, attempts in which looked pretty interesting. But I think all the speeds that they were doing were definitely achievable for us, and hopefully we can have a good run at the pole tomorrow.
MODERATOR: One more thing for you, Chip, before we open it up. You're in this because you want to win, and that's the goal in anything that you do. What drives you? As I think about this, you've got two guys who have done just that as drivers, guys who have won championships for you. You've had a long relationship with Mike and people are pointing to you. You have to feel good when you have that kind of lineup about your chances.
GANASSI: Well, you do. It's true, I have a -- obviously you know, I'm the guy that I like to be down on the inside. You guys probably all know by now I like to be down in the pit lane and in on the racing side of the business, you know, as opposed to the hoopla side or the merchandise side or the -- and I love to be down asking about the cars, finding out about what the guys are into. It's just the way I've come up in this sport, I guess. I like being down in the action. And I don't mean to be short with you about talking about Daytona versus Indy or whatever, but that's not why I'm here almost; I'm here because I want to win, and I want to win the next race. I want to win the Indy 500, and after the Indy 500 I want to go in Texas. And, you know, after Texas I want to go win --
GANASSI: Thank you. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: You've got your guys on the board with you.
GANASSI: So that's why I'm in it. That's what it's about. At the end of the day it's about, for me anyway at the end of the day, it's about, you know, we've come to so many races and how many did we walk away with the trophy? I think that's important in today's world, especially because I think we lose sight of the fact that racing is about, you know -- I don't want to sound like a purist, but racing is about passing other people and being at the front and getting to the checker flag. I don't think there's enough talk about that, you know. In sports today, we talk about so many other things, but let's get back to the reason why we're all here in the first place, is to win. And I think if you -- and that's what I like about having these three guys to my right, in their each own respective way, they understand that and they understand the level of commitment, the level of performance, the level of just general activity it takes on their particular part to accomplish that. And that's why I'm lucky to represent these three guys when I go talk to sponsors or whatever, you know, is because the three of them understand what the commitment is to this team and to -- and that's what it is, a commitment to the team. It's not a commitment to me or, you know, the mechanics, it's a commitment to the team. That's an important thing.
I'm very lucky to have these guys. It's that simple. There are a lot of people in this garage area, these three guys can probably all go get jobs in the next hour if they had to in the garage area, and probably get paid more money. That's why I'm fortunate to have them on the team. (Laughter) So, you know, but they've chosen to be a part of a group of people that have a common goal and that common goal is winning the next race.
MODERATOR: Very good. Questions?
Q: We're working on a new format this year, shorter practice, different qualifying situation. Talk about how those changes affected the way both of you have kind of form your outlook on what you need to do tomorrow and perhaps next week, too.
DIXON: I think everybody takes it in different strides. Everybody is on the same page as far as time and running times and things like that for us. You know, we're definitely the team that I think has stood out and just concentrating on race setup. So we hope the choices that we make are the right ones. It is a hard decision to know when to go from a race setup to a qualifying setup and things like that. But from now on we're definitely going to start concentrating on the qualifying setup.
I think the format is going to be interesting for all of us. It's going to be tougher on the teams, tougher on the drivers, tougher to make the right calls I think at the right time. But some of that's going to come into luck, too, just how the timing works out, especially if you get into the fast nine. I think it's going to be a lot more stress on everybody tomorrow and it's going to be hard to fight for that pole. But I think in the big picture of putting on a great show for the fans is definitely what it's all about.
FRANCHITTI: I think timing is more important this week. If you get late to pit lane and you miss that group to practice, your race simulation, that's been quite tough. Obviously, with the weather coming in and out, as well, there will be no time for messing around. Anytime there's been a green track, the flag has been green, we've had to be on it, which has been kind of weird sometimes because we've been sitting out there and the rest of pit lane has been empty. So kind of curious about what some people have been up to.
But we've been really, as Scott has said, focused on that race setup and then today we're going to switch over to the qualifying simulation. Qualifying, I think it's going to be more difficult with this new format because anytime you go out here in qualifying trim whether it's in practice or for the real deal, you're absolutely on the edge for those four laps. We're going to have to do it a good number of times today, but then tomorrow, upwards of three, four times probably. We're going to earn our money tomorrow, for sure. I think Chip's stress level is going to be fairly high tomorrow, as well.
Q: Chip, on the follow-up on that issue about tomorrow, obviously the goal is winning the pole but when you get to the final shoot-out and everything, how do you kind of see that shaping up for you in terms of maybe guessing games or, you know, your gambling skills? Just how much are you really going to push the envelope tomorrow when you get to that point?
GANASSI: Well, I think, first of all, how much are we going to push the envelope? We're going to push it all the way tomorrow. OK, we're here -- yes, there's a new format, yes, the race is a week away, but right now our focus is on qualifying. If we're going to focus on qualifying, let's focus on being on the pole. If we're not focused on being on the pole, we wouldn't focus on qualifying. But we're here to focus on that tomorrow.
Is it going to be a high level of stress? I think so, but I mean that's what the fans pay for, that's what the sponsors pay for, that's what we get paid to do. And like I said, I have a good group of guys here to my right that I think are up for the task. We obviously talked about different scenarios this week about what could happen and what-ifs, how things have changed a bit. You know, there's some thought if you have three or four shots tomorrow, if you can't get your car figured out in three or four shots, you're not going to get it figured out. But you do have to be ready, you're going to have to be ready a little quicker than maybe in the past and you're going to be, going to have to be ready quicker to go and you're going to have to maintain a high level of preparedness all day. Obviously, you want to first get into that fast nine and make sure you're solidly in there.
I think there's going to be a couple interesting races tomorrow. One of them is going to be at about quarter to four or maybe 3:30, because I think there's going to be a big race for the last spot, one, two, three spots at the end there.
Also, the important thing to point out is the pits are going to be picked off of what we call Segment 1 tomorrow. So that's an important -- it's important to go fast in Segment 1 because that's going to pick your pits for the race. So, you know, you don't want to give it a half effort and then have something happen. You can have a half -effort tomorrow and you can pay for it on Lap, you know, 180 of the Indy 500. I wouldn't want to have that happen. So it's going to be important you have a good pit selection, which is going to come in Segment 1 tomorrow. So don't let that fall out of the importance level that it's going to take tomorrow and how important it is to run fast in Segment 1.
Having said that, you want to run fast in Segment 1, but you obviously want to save something for Segment 2, which is the shoot-out. You know, you want to save something for that because, OK, now you have a good pit selection, you can have the first pit and still start the race in the third row. I'm not interested in that either.
So you have to sort -- so there's sort of two different things going on here that you have to be -- you have to have -- you know, the guy that walks away with the pole here tomorrow night is going to have played his hand certainly with four aces. You're going to need all four aces in your hand tomorrow afternoon at 6. Whoever has those four aces is going to have earned something, I can tell you that. He's going to have earned something because he's going to have played his hand all day very well, I think. And I think you're going to see the same thing, like I said, back at the seven, eight, nine position or eight, nine, 10, 11 position, you're going to see a lot of activity there.
So, yes, it's something new, but, hey, let's face it, we can -- if we can do something to improve the show or improve it for the fans, I think it's about time we start doing it.
Q: Chip, yesterday it was reported that when Brian changed the rules about if you have to go to a backup car, you go to the back of the field, now you'll stay in your spot, that you weren't real happy about that. Could you explain your thoughts on that?
GANASSI: Well, I think what I was unhappy about was I think at one point there was a difference if you were in the --
HULL: The nine versus --
GANASSI: The nine versus the remaining part of the field.
HULL: What was said by the president of the competition of IRL, what was said by Brian (Barnhart) was the top nine guys basically had no consequences. You could go out and tattoo the fence, and you were still in the race in the first three rows. Whereas if you were in the other rows and you went out and crashed at any point in time, you were going to start at the back in a spare car. That's where the difference of opinion was.
I know I read a little bit of Curt Cavin's thing this morning, he didn't really explain what happened. So that's what Chip is talking about.
GANASSI: That's all. It was matter of just what's good for the front nine is good for the back, you know, 24 or whatever.
HULL: The thing is in fairness to what we're doing, the whole point of the exercise here is to try to -- this isn't the first tradition that's been changed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I'll guarantee you -- I think anyway, I don't work for them -- it won't be the last. But we've got to go with the flow here. We've got to get the brand back in business. This is a good attempt at doing that. If Brian wants the fastest drivers on the planet that qualify in the first three rows to start at the front to make a good race on Race Day, that's what we should support.
Q: Mike, the question I have relates to the qualifying situation. Since it's changed so much over the last 10 years, qualifying draw, you knew whether you wanted to draw early or draw late based on what time of day you want to try to hit the best weather and the track and the best condition. Tomorrow it's going to be an entirely new ballgame. Do you guys have any feel for what might be a good draw or is that even going to be relevant at all?
HULL: We rely on Mr. Ganassi to take care of that for us. He always draws for us and does a great job for us, and it seems to work out. I think once we know where we stand in the field, because we have three attempts and not one, and we're out there from 11 until 4, you figure there's twelve an hour that go through that line, work backwards from there and then we'll just determine where we need to be.
I think the rub comes is what Chip referred to. Let's say there's a blast at 20 minutes to 4 and we decide to go requalify, we withdraw our time, let's say we're the fastest car and we withdraw our time to be faster so we can cover ourselves for pit selection. If we do that and the guys that we're fighting with for the first couple of rows do the same thing sequentially in front of us, then we have to go back to tech -- and this was brought up in the meeting yesterday, too. We have a bit of a problem with this because if all of those cars are in tech, they're not going to move them out of the way for you because you're all trying to get back out and the next segment starts 30 minutes later. Try to take your race car back there, drain it for fuel, go through all the things, make changes, go back in the pit line and not miss your spot in those nine positions. That's where the fun is going to start right there.
GANASSI: Like I said, when it comes, like Mike said, when it comes to pit selection, you could be in line at -- you could have made a run at 11:35 a.m., you could have made a second-place run, let's say, at 11:30 a.m., and you say, OK, well, I'm going to roll back in line at 3:30 to improve my position. So you roll back in line at 3:30 and let's just say for a moment that Franchitti's P1 and Dixon is P2. Dixon rolls back in line at 3:30, you know, Franchitti is standing here on the pole like a sitting duck now because Dixon rolls in behind him and doesn't -- maybe it's 3:50 let's say, 3:50 and he doesn't have a chance to go back out. So you have a lot of scenarios like that. And certainly if it's within your own team it's one thing, but I would suggest to you that it's going to be among other teams, you know, one or two in particular that if you're out of sequencing in line is going to play a big part in, come Race Day, just your sequencing in line for qualifying.
It could be at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon, your sequencing in line is going to dictate the outcome of the Indianapolis 500 a week from now. Do you understand that? Do you understand what I am saying? I want to be clear about that. Do you understand what I am saying? Because you're going to end up with your pit selection is from -- Segment 1 is your pit selection -- could affect the outcome of the race.
Q: So outside of the cash and the prestige, does that make the significance of that Segment 1 even more significant than the --
GANASSI: Let me tell you something, three of these guys to the right of me and the guy you're talking to, we're not even thinking about the cash and the prestige tomorrow, we're worried about getting to the front, OK? That's secondary.
Q: Now that my head is spinning in trying to figure all this qualifying out -- and it may take me about six years to get it all figured out -- the parameters, both Dario and Scott, with the session, you get into the top nine at the end. You know what's on the line, you know you're locked in, top nine is the worst you're going to be. Do you push it past the point you might normally push it? You're pushing as hard as you can but there's always that one moment if I stuff it I'm really in bad trouble here and I'm going to lose my position to be at the back. Does that open it up to where you might take a little more chance, go past that point where you're really comfortable to try to grab the top spot?
FRANCHITTI: I think there's only so far you can push and that's -- it's a very, very fine line here at this track.
GANASSI: That's not what you told me at dinner. (Laughter)
FRANCHITTI: There's only so much. Every time you're in qualifying situation, you give it 100 percent. Whatever the car will give you, you do it. It's pretty intense in the cockpit. From my opinion, there's only so much you can do. There's a hundred percent and that's it.
DIXON: Yeah, you know, it's similar. I'm never going to go out there and give it 80 or 90 percent, and then Dario is the same, and I know that the teams we compete against are the same. We always are pushing to the limit. I think if I'm not mistaken, with the top nine if you put in your first attempt, you can go back out without taking your original time out. (Laughter) So you keep your first attempt time. Even if you want to go out and you want to push that little bit more and try and push it past and go further, and you do crash, you're still going to start maybe, you know, if you were second. So I know they’re going to be lots of teams that push it to the max and go for that pole position, and I don't think this team is going to be any different.
Q: Chip, you've got not only a new format for qualifying, but you've got a new series sponsor, a new CEO. Talk about the direction this series is headed from an owner standpoint, just sort of, you know, what your thoughts are on the way the whole series is going.
GANASSI: I think -- you know, I think it's on an upswing. I mean, it's on an upswing, for sure. Obviously when you see IZOD doing television commercials during the NFL playoffs in January and that, I thought that was pretty strong. So obviously from that point of view, it's refreshing.
Same with Randy Bernard, the guy comes in, takes his time learning things, seems committed, workaholic, working day and night at it, you pick up the cell phone, call him, he picks up his phone, you know, says, "Hey, I'm busy, I'll call you back." He calls you back, he says, you know, "I can meet you, I can't meet you." He seems like a straight shooter. You know, wants to learn the sport, wants to -- understands, I think, what the sport needs long-term and where we are in the pecking order of sports, and he wants to move the needle. So I think that's good, that's refreshing.
Now, certainly when you have, you know -- when you have a new series sponsor and a new CEO, you're going to get a little, you know, momentum, a little burst of energy here at the start. I hope that they can both -- both of those groups can maintain their pace and their momentum so this isn't just a Roman candle, it's a spaceship going to the moon, you know. So I'm optimistic right now that I don't see any -- I don't see anything yet that tells me it's a Roman candle. So I'm happy.
MODERATOR: Final question.
Q: Chip and Mike, not too many years ago you had a qualifying engine that probably would blow up if it had to go one more lap after it qualified. Are the Honda engines today strong enough to go out and give it everything you've got for maybe two or three chances early and then come right back an hour later and be able to do the same thing?
GANASSI: Well, Dick, the short answer is I hope so. (Laughter) We all hope so. I mean, obviously Honda has done a great job, and there have been very few, if -- I can't remember the last time I saw one of their engines fail, so that's good. You know, having said that, I think there's maybe some opportunity -- there's a lot of speed in those engines maybe we don't, you know -- they're obviously running at a point that's very, very safe, and that's good. Having said that, we're going to find out tomorrow if they're up to the task. I sure hope they are, at least the engines we have. I sure hope they're up for it.
HULL: The engines, today we race the engines based on a mileage number, and their mileage number is based on durability factors that they have that they're able to easily achieve. And you know, if it would have been two or three years ago and there would have been two or three engine manufacturers here, you're absolutely correct. We'd be sweating bullets having to do three attempts or five attempts or whatever it is. Today it's a lot easier process.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.