By the top of that late Saturday night time at Petit Le Mans in 2019, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing had reached its farewell level in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Shortly afterward, the Blue Oval’s Ford GTs could be returned and the formidable two-car GT Le Mans group could be reassigned, for probably the most half, to totally different wings of Ganassi’s multi-series racing operation.
As Ganassi contemplated life with out sports activities automotive racing, nearly all of FCGR’s IMSA crew members have been headed for the group’s NTT IndyCar Sequence applications, together with IMSA group supervisor Mike O’Gara. To their shock, a brand new IMSA mission landed one yr after the Ford effort folded. And with an pressing must create Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing to compete within the DPi class, O’Gara and the group’s hierarchy had roughly three months to reconstitute a sports activities automotive program.
Including to the complexity, CGR expanded to 4 IndyCar entries for 2021 earlier than the Cadillac program was finalized, which made pulling its former IMSA group again to the WeatherTech Championship paddock all however not possible. Except a number of returnees, CCGR is a contemporary meeting of endurance racers, which makes for a novel alternative with the assistance of O’Gara to go inside their course of of making a title-contending DPi outfit with out the luxurious of intensive time and testing on their facet.
Pivoting again to IMSA
“A yr in the past, the Ford program went away, and on the identical time, we have been including Marcus Ericsson to the IndyCar program, so fortunately, we have been in a position to place virtually most everyone from the IMSA program onto his No. 8 Honda,” O’Gara advised RACER. “We sprinkled a pair different guys on the No. 9 and No. 10 vehicles. So, all was good. After which, in the direction of the top of the summer time, we obtained this new IndyCar deal accomplished with Jimmie Johnson.
“So we’re going so as to add one other automotive, so I set about attempting so as to add a automotive’s price of individuals. And a automotive’s price of individuals which can be worthy of a program like Jimmie’s, with out destroying what we had on the opposite vehicles. Clearly, Scott Dixon’s program was profitable final yr. The ten automotive with Felix Rosenqvist was profitable. They gained a race. Marcus actually hit his stride on the finish of the yr. So that you don’t need to destroy that by siphoning individuals off of what’s working there.
“After which a number of weeks after the Jimmie Johnson deal obtained accomplished, this Cadillac alternative sprung up. Chip at all times mentioned he needed to return IMSA racing, however he needed to do it with the suitable program and within the correct manner. The Ford program was a dream program for six years complete, two years with the DP and 4 the GT vehicles. I imply, nice companions, good funding, success, finest sports activities automotive drivers on the planet. It was a dream deal to have the ability to be part of it. So taking a yr off was a bummer, however this new Cadillac program is fairly darn thrilling, and we get to go race for total wins.”
Staffing the No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R
“The Dallara chassis is, in our opinion, the one to have when you’re going to go DPi racing, and to do it with GM is that a lot better. So we began constructing this group, and I managed to steal a few guys and get them again on the sports activities automotive program. Trevor Montgomery has been with us eternally – been a sports activities automotive man, been an IndyCar man. He’s one in all these utility gamers that you simply plug him in and stuff simply will get accomplished. So it was superior that he was serious about coming again. A reputation acquainted to the IMSA paddock is definitely going to crew chief the automotive, and that’s Phil Binks (ED: son of long-time – and recently-retired – Corvette Racing crew chief Dan).
“We needed to advertise from inside, and checked out lots of totally different choices. And once more, with out wanting to tug another person off of the IndyCar program, Phil’s identify rose to the highest. Administration on the Indy store huddled and mentioned, ‘Let’s see if Phil desires to do it.’ He and some of the blokes labored by Christmas and New 12 months’s, and obtained this automotive put collectively. It obtained loaded on the truck Friday night time, about 2:30 a.m., to move all the way down to Sebring. Up to now, Phil’s accomplished an ideal job in main his guys as we’ve recruited new individuals to work with us.
“John Hennek goes to engineer the automotive. He’s been with us for an extended, very long time – did our DP program, helped out on Dixon’s automotive final yr as a efficiency engineer. He was a transparent option to engineer the automotive. And he’s a type of guys that simply grabs the bull by the horns. You already know, the phrases have been barely out of our mouths that we have been going to do that program, and he needed Dallara’s components books, and person manuals, and any knowledge he might get, and construct sheets and aero maps. He’s taken the ball and run with it. And also you’ll see another guys come and go, particularly with Daytona fortunately not being a battle with the IndyCar schedule. There’s some guys which can be going to be doing a little double obligation to assist get this factor off the bottom.
“Introduced a number of different guys in from exterior, each for the Cadillac and to complement the IndyCars. I had this massive grid. I felt prefer it was a giant a type of sliding quantity puzzles to get guys that I felt have been going to gel and work collectively. And it’s important to take an opportunity on some individuals that won’t have IMSA or IndyCar expertise. And we’ve accomplished that. We’ve taken an opportunity on some guys that don’t have any racing expertise in any respect. However as [CGR managing director] Mike Hull likes to say, we get them in our system and get them doing issues the way in which we wish it accomplished, and it really works out. Up to now, all the pieces is trying good.”
CCGR employed ex-Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac driver Renger van der Zande and former Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen to steer the No. 01 Cadillac for the season. Scott Dixon, who drove WTR’s Cadillac final yr, will be a part of the Dutch-Danish tandem at IMSA’s longest races, and Ericsson will function a standby for the upcoming Rolex 24 At Daytona if there’s a necessity for a substitute driver.
Though the group has huge sports activities automotive expertise, van der Zande finds himself in an enviable place as a driver who is aware of extra concerning the DPi-V.R than his new employers, and people he’ll drive with in 2021.
“Clearly, there are lots of elements between Chip and Mike Hull on who they in the end needed to drive for us,” O’Gara mentioned. “They’ve obtained a reasonably good observe report of discovering good guys to drive our race vehicles. The method once we did the GT program was, Mike and I sat down and made a listing, and we simply labored our manner down the record. The Cadillac deal is an identical factor, however for the Ford GT, we didn’t have anyone with Ford GT expertise. So, we have been taking a look at different GTLM drivers.