Homestead: Champion press conference, part 1

An Interview with Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull THE MODERATOR: Now for today's official fun fact. Today, October 10, 10/10, the 10 car won the championship, and it was Target Chip Ganassi's 10th win of the season. We're now ...

Homestead: Champion press conference, part 1

An Interview with Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull

THE MODERATOR: Now for today's official fun fact. Today, October 10, 10/10, the 10 car won the championship, and it was Target Chip Ganassi's 10th win of the season.

We're now joined by championship team owner Chip Ganassi. Chip, I was just telling the crowd here today, October 10, 10/10, the 10 car won the championship, and it's the team's 10th win of the year, so 10s across the board. I don't know if there's any casinos around here, or anything we can have a little bit of fun with, but talk about today.

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, it was an interesting race right from the getgo from my point of view. I don't know if you remember the start, but Scott and Dario were side by side for the first ten laps or whatever. And I don't know what those guys said before, but there was tire degradation going on. They were great tires to go through what we put them through, but the speeds were falling off considerably after a while, and it sort of brought Ryan and -- at the time, Ed (Carpenter) kind of brought them back into the race there at the beginning.

And then it kind of spread out. I was really surprised at the different downforce levels everybody was running because you saw the Newman/Haas cars, they went to the back pretty quick, and some other people -- it was interesting that what was happening is we started to lap cars pretty quick, and I thought, boy, we're going to lap a lot of cars here.

You know, it was interesting that we were lapping the cars the way we were. The next thing you look up, we're lapping guys like (Tony) Kanaan, Marco (Andretti). Danica (Patrick) had an issue in the pits. They lapped Helio (Castroneves).

Next thing you know, the three guys were on the lead lap themselves. At that point you start to think about different strategies, about what you can do and what the risk is. It's not a big risk if you go down a lap with three guys on the lead lap. You don't fall that far back.

It was an interesting race. Obviously at the same time you were waiting for a yellow, not thinking that, "My gosh, can this thing go the whole way without a yellow."

But having said that, you think about that at the first pit stop, you think about it a little bit more at the second pit stop, you think about it a hell of a lot at the third pit stop, and the last ten laps you just can't believe it, how this thing worked out.

We were lucky that Ryan stopped on early on as he did, so that sort of -- I think he stopped at about 43 or 44, 46 -- yeah, 46. 45? It was early; I know that. And we thought, oh, my gosh, those guys are going to need some yellow.

And then Dixon was in two laps later, I think, on the first one.

So that starts to play out some different things. Obviously you're not wed to anything at that part of the race, but still it makes for some interesting thought.

THE MODERATOR: How about the season as a whole?

CHIP GANASSI: I mean, it's interesting, people ask me questions about the season. I sort of missed the middle half of the season because I was down for a while.

But when I look back at the season, I don't know, obviously we started out in the beginning of the season wanting to win the championship, and I walked into the race meeting today, I said, look, we're where we want to be, we're 1-2 in the championship. If you don't enjoy this kind of business today, you're not going to enjoy it.

So when you look back at the season, I mean, I'm the luckiest owner in the paddock. I've got two great drivers; I've got a great sponsor in Target, a great partner if you will, just everything goes together, and especially in these times.

We challenged our team this year to do things on a more tighter basis maybe with -- I don't think anybody would be surprised that the purse strings were a little tighter this year around the race game than they were in the past, and we challenged -- Mike Hull and I challenged the team to work on a little tighter budget, and the guys all came through and did it. And it didn't affect the performance.

So when I look back on the season, that's kind of what I see. You can talk about 10 wins, and it's great to be a part of that.

But more importantly, I look at it on a longer-term basis, and I know that our team was challenged at the beginning of the season to perform with maybe not the tools that I've been able to give them in the past to perform with, and they still came through.

Q: Chip, would you discuss your decision last year and what timing there was to bring Dario back here? How much did the bad luck and the bad results from NASCAR have to do with you wanting to get him back in a car here?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I remember we were in Detroit whenever that race was, Labor Day weekend. It was in Detroit Labor Day weekend. And Dario was there. I knew he was going to be there watching his brother race.

We were in the beginnings of a -- we were in the beginnings of the financial crisis then. This business is always the first one to pick up those trends, and the last one to let them go.

And sure enough, we were on the front end of that, not being able to find sponsorship for him in NASCAR, and it was a heart breaker. We had to make a lot of tough decisions, and there were a lot of great employees that I had to -- when we dropped the car there, there were a lot of people that I had to look in the eye and tell them we didn't have jobs for them, and that's a difficult thing to do.

This championship rests on their shoulders, okay, as well as the team members that are here. But I mean, the seat became available there around Labor Day weekend, and he was in Detroit. And I said, "Hey, if you want the seat, it's yours, just let me know in a couple hours." (Laughter.)

Q: Before Dario gets in here, just talk about him as a champion. This is probably more impressive than the last one, just given the comeback, and his place in history a little bit.

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I think so. You know, I've always said there are a lot of guys that can win races, but there aren't nearly as many that can win championships. That's the kind of guy Dario is. I mean, he sneaks up on you, and a lot of people think he's not really -- you can look back on this season, and I think if you look at his lap chart about where he runs in the races, he's kind of always back there in third, fourth, and at times -- but then for some reason at the checkered flag, he's always up there where the points are for some reason, where the big points are. He's that kind of guy.

It takes quite a driver to have the ability to maintain his composure during a race like today and how the race played out. That's strictly a level of maturity and a level of confidence in yourself and being a champion before and knowing what it takes to be a champion. That's how you win races like he did today.

THE MODERATOR: Mike, do you want to chime in on Dario and his performance this season?

MIKE HULL: Yeah, I'd say a couple of different things. I don't know which order I should say them in.

First of all, what happened in Detroit was absolutely awesome for us. We had the unfortunate news in that week that Dan Wheldon had decided he didn't want to drive for us this season, and we fully anticipated that he was going to sign a contract and drive our car. And we didn't find out until Wednesday night, Chip called me on the phone and said, "You're not going to believe what I'm going to tell you; you'd better sit down." I said the same thing we always do, find the best available talent we can and continue on with where we're going.

When Dario came to watch (brother) Marino (Franchitti) drive at Detroit, he and I were sitting down on the back step of the trailer after the first practice session, and he said, "Man, if I had to drive against the Dixon I see today versus the Dixon that I drove against last year, I'd have my hands full. I'd really like to be his teammate." And I said, really? He said, yeah.

I said, OK, what about that NASCAR thing? And he said, well, if I could be on a proper IndyCar team, that would be the best place in the world for me to drive. And he said but there isn't a drive available. I said, oh, OK. So I called Chip after the conversation, and Chip said, invite him to dinner tonight and let's make a deal tonight. So on a cocktail napkin we made a deal. Chip's right, we gave him two hours to sign at the end of the cocktail napkin. It was less than an 8 by 10 piece of paper that we actually made the deal on, and those are the best deals you make in racing, and it certainly turned out to be that deal.

In terms of Dario, what's unique about where we are today with Chip Ganassi Racing versus where we've been with other drivers in open wheel racing since I've worked for Chip, and that's been a few years now, we've had really talented guys drive our cars, very talented. And that is an enormous difference.

But the difference that we have today, and I believe the reason that we won today, is because we have two drivers who have accomplished very similar things in their careers, and that puts the pressure in a different area, for their drive, their drive style and where they're trying to go. They both won the Indy 500, they've both won championships, they've both won races around the world. Their open-wheel experience is very similar one to the other. So there's no pressure there to win again, and sometimes that's a bad thing because it creates complacency. But in these two guys, they absolutely rejoice in what the other guy does, and that's very unique.

We'll be at a meeting with the two drivers and the engineers and some of the managers, and in years past with talented guys, there would be that one percent inside the vest that wouldn't be given up, literally. We'd see it on the racetrack.

But with these two guys, it's 101 percent. They never have held back from each other. And that's the reason that we've done what we've done this year. A couple of people told me today, well, this is your championship to lose, and my feeling about it was actually the opposite; this was our championship to win, because we've had everything that it took. There were two strategies employed on the racetrack today, and I thought it was rather ironic that the guy that I look after on a normal basis on a timing stand who's known for harboring fuel in his car had to race for it, and the guy that races for it saved fuel. But it just played out that way, and each of them are so engrained in the other one, they understood how the other person races and they took full advantage of it. So that's what I'd say.

Q: For Chip and Mike, to be sitting here today and celebrating Dario's championship, when you think back to when you signed him on that napkin, your expectations then, what were you really thinking about him, what he could do after everything happened with the NASCAR side and his injury and really just getting back into possibly a different series?

And the second question is how has Dario -- how did Dario kind of transform himself this time around that made the difference today?

CHIP GANASSI: Let me answer that. There was a guy we used to have around the team. He was a mentor to Mike and myself, a guy by the name of Morris Nunn, and Morris, when you needed a driver, Morris said -- he said, you've always got to take the best guy that's available. Morris, wherever you are out there tonight, playing golf somewhere, thank you, because that's what we did. That's where he and I learned that.

No matter what, you've always got to take the best guy that's available, because if you do it for some other reason, you're going to get in trouble eventually. That's what we did.

So that was probably the -- when you have an open seat and you've got the best guys available out there and you take a run at him and say, hey, we want you to drive a car for this amount of money, and this is what we want, can you do it, yes or no? And you know right there what's going to set the tone. If he says yes, it'll set the tone. If he says, well, let me think about it for three days, it's kind of like, well, the guy doesn't really want it, you know.

Mike can attest to this a little bit. That kind of sets the tone right there, sets the tone right on that day. That sets the tone with these guys. If they're interested in driving for you, they'll tell you. Dario said, look, I really want to do this. I remember him saying, I want to do this, but I've got to think about it for a little bit. Can I think about it for a little bit?

So I think you're thinking about -- you are thinking about doing well. If you don't think of putting your team together to go and win something, whether it's races or championships, if you don't put a team together to do that, I don't know what you're doing in this business, so you've obviously got to be thinking about that in the back of your mind, thinking this is why I want to do this, because I want to win. You don't put it together to lose.

You know, I can't really say I was thinking about winning a championship. I thought, well, it would be great if we could win the championship with him. But we knew that if he was going to win a championship, he had another guy that was in a pretty good car that he was going to have to beat. We knew that guy pretty well, too; he was on our team.

So you know -- does that answer your question?

Q: Congratulations. Mike, this has got to be a little -- the guy that you're calling the shots for the second time to Dario, the fuel thing kind of turns out not working for him --

MIKE HULL: He wasn't going to run out of fuel this time.

Q: Basically, just looking at it from Scott's effort all year, he gave it a pretty good shot, and him and Briscoe had a hell of a race up there at the front. Just your thoughts on Scott's effort.

MIKE HULL: Scott Dixon, I could write a book on Scott Dixon. I think maybe someday when I'm sitting on a beach somewhere, I'll do that.

Scott Dixon grows every day. He's not a steady guy; he's a growth expert. He studies what his teammate does, he studies what the team itself does, he studies what has happened to him on the racetrack, he studies that the data that is provided, fine line data from other competitors. He works on a daily basis to be a better race car driver.

And now with a teammate like we have in Dario, it's very unique because they aren't the same, but they read each other very well. So it's a pleasure to have Scott Dixon, and I've been fortunate enough to be with Scott, I don't know, since 2003. And we've grown together in the process. We've made each other better. We've been equally ecstatic about results on given days and equally disappointed in results on given days.

You know, what the race was over, I said to Scott, good job, but you know what, it would have been better off to have a moment of silence because I know how much he wanted to win today, and it had nothing to do with racing against Ryan Briscoe. He had just -- he had set himself in motion to win the championship, and that's what we do every day.

Chip Ganassi Racing is all about what you saw today; it's about two groups of people operating as one. Scott Dixon epitomizes that for us.

Q: Chip, I started thinking back to another driver that you took back, and he left Formula 1. You brought him here, put him in a car and he won a race. I think it was here, was it not, Michael Andretti?

CHIP GANASSI: He won in Australia.

Q: Was it here that he came back --

CHIP GANASSI: It was Australia.

That's the thing, I've been lucky over the years to work with so many great drivers. Michael is certainly one of them. We did a book of 100 wins last year when we got to the 100 mark, and I wrote a personal note and I sent a book to every one of the drivers that were in it, and Michael was the first one -- Michael's was the first one I penned.

You know, that was an important win for our team in many respects, not the least of which it did set the tone for a long time to come, you know, as to what the team was capable of and what the strategy was and the way we operate the team. I remember it just sort of validated how we operated the team in 1994 there.

Q: Chip, did you mention coming in that you guys would be 170 points up on the rest of the field? Those cars just crushed everybody this year. Did you think that was how it was going to play out, or were you expecting more competition from the AGRs and Newman/Haases of the world?

CHIP GANASSI: I don't know, Mike is probably better to answer that than me, but every year you go into the off-season, or when you start thinking about the following racing season, you think, okay, well, we have to do this, this and this because those other guys are doing that, that and that. And it does get harder every year because it -- it gets harder every year because people sort of know your modus operandi, if you will. That's a big word for me.

So each year it gets harder in that respect. I mean, obviously there are some teams out there we think we have a handle on, but you know, look down at Penske and Andretti and Newman/Haas, and these are all capable organizations.

THE MODERATOR: Chip, Mike, thank you very much.

We are now joined by two-time IndyCar Series champion, Dario Franchitti. You've got to have a little bit of fun with this. You are the oldest champion in Indy racing history. Why don't you talk about your day out there.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it obviously started yesterday when we managed to qualify on the pole and take the front row for team Target. That was just a great effort by the team. My guys -- we weren't that quick in practice, and my guys, Chris Simmons and Brad Goldberg and the boys on the engineering side, together took an estimated, a guess, on what we would need to do the qualifying, and that was spot on.

But our reset was also a little bit of a guess on our side of the car, because we weren't that good in practice. You could see that Scott and Ryan were quicker because the car was a little out of bounds. So pretty early on I decided my only option was going to be -- I couldn't stay with them, so I was going to have to start thinking about saving fuel. Luckily, Chip and the boys in the stand were having the same thought. The first stint we pitted, and we made an adjustment. It was a small adjustment.

From then on the car was great, and the track came to us a little cooler, but we were already four seconds back. So from pretty much from that point on we were save fuel, save fuel, yeah, that's a good lap speed. And I was thinking, well, that's as quick as I can go, so it was a good lap speed. I was trying some different stuff.

In traffic it was pretty tough. We seemed to be lapping a lot of cars, and it was very difficult with the heat and everything, the temperature, the cars were sliding around a lot, having to stretch our equipment, so was able to do that. And because it really played into our strategy, I would have loved to gone an extra one and chase those guys down, but that wasn't our plan. Luckily having two cars in the championship fight, with Scott and myself, we managed to split strategy. And for me, my one worked out.

Continued in part 2

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