IndyCar 2020 hot topics: Will Ganassi engineering moves pay off?
The big IndyCar questions of 2020 include whether the mighty Chip Ganassi Racing has pulled a title-winning move by expanding to three cars and shuffling the engineering personnel.
There has been quite a reshuffle of engineering talent in Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar team over the off-season. This is partly a consequence of personnel from the IMSA arm of the squad becoming available, following Ford’s ending of the largely successful GT program, and partly because Chip is a racer who is never content with stasis. Win or lose, he will make moves that he believes will pay off immediately, and/or have positive consequences a little further down the road.
Five-time champion Scott Dixon failed to defend his crown in 2019 – in fact, he finished ‘only’ fourth in the title race – and while this was largely down to two reliability issues and two driver errors, it was fairly predictable that there would be changes behind the scenes at a squad that has earned its drivers 12 championships in 30 years.
What also made the reshaping of Ganassi’s technical lineup inevitable is the fact that the team has re-expanded to three cars. The team was able to confirm Marcus Ericsson’s arrival as early as October and last week revealed that his #8 car's primary sponsor will be Huski Chocolate.
The ex-Formula 1 driver’s race engineer will be Brad Goldberg who greatly enjoyed running the Richard Westbrook/Ryan Briscoe Ford GT in IMSA (and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans) but who before that proved able to get the very best out of Charlie Kimball while the Californian was at Ganassi.
So you can guarantee Goldberg will lend an empathetic ear when Ericsson is describing what he wants from his car, and should also help curb the over-enthusiasm he displayed on qualifying runs in his rookie season last year. Too often the #7 Arrow SPM car started from an artificially low grid spot as a result of Ericsson's little time-losing mistakes.
His entry will be overseen from the pit wall by Mike O’Gara, former manager of Ganassi’s IMSA team who has now spent almost 12 of his last 16 years at CGR.
The team’s technical director Julian Robertson will again serve as race engineer for Ganassi’s other Swedish series sophomore, Felix Rosenqvist, who won last year’s IndyCar rookie of the year title and finished sixth overall in the points table. The 28-year-old’s first season in the series, to no one’s surprise, was full of promise – indeed, he showed quite brilliant form at times – and he just needs to harness that in-cockpit ebullience in order to become a regular victory contender. The combination of team manager Barry Wanser and Chip Ganassi himself will run the #10 from trackside.
Over on CGR’s famous #9, which Dixon has driven to 45 of his 46 Indy car wins and five championships, things have changed greatly. Assistant engineer Kate Gundlach has gone to Arrow McLaren SP. Chris Simmons, who steered Dario Franchitti to three consecutive titles (2009-’11) and two Indy 500s (2010 and ’12) and then won two more championships with Dixon (2015 and ’18), has now taken up the role of Ganassi's competition manager, working with Robertson.
Simmons, who has been with the team since 2003, was always a good sounding board for Dixon as, being a respectable open-wheel driver in his day, he understood exactly what the champ was explaining to him.
Which is not to say his replacement, Michael Cannon, won’t be able to do the same. He’ll just be coming from a different perspective. The son of Can-Am race winner John Cannon has spent the last six seasons at Dale Coyne Racing, working with hugely talented veterans such as the late Justin Wilson along with more raw recruits such as Tristan Vautier, Conor Daly, Ed Jones and Santino Ferrucci.
But Cannon was a huge fan of Dixon from afar and is therefore hugely excited by his new role. And, as he proved at DCR, he knows how to engineer a very strong car for ovals – maybe the area where Ganassi has been most inconsistent over the past few years. With Simmons and Robertson also assisting Cannon, the line-up at CGR for 2020 looks truly formidable.
So with venerable managing director Mike Hull calling the shots for the #9 on race weekends and also helping ensure the whole squad pulls as one, 24/7, expect podiums for Ericsson, victories for Rosenqvist, and for Dixon to be in a position to take the championship fight down to the wire once more.
Dixon and Rosenqvist celebrate after scoring a Ganassi 1-2 at Mid-Ohio.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
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