'Chip Slam' Next Up For Ganassi
After building his reputation as a team owner for more than two decades, last year Chip Ganassi became an "overnight" sensation when his cars won America's three biggest races. "Chip Ganassi Day" was even declared in his hometown of Pittsburgh. The only thing missing in the major race victory column was a win in last year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the vaunted Ganassi team finished second and lost by a mere 52 seconds.
As testing begins for this year's 24-hour, Ganassi's team will be working on filling in the missing victory to complete the "Chip Slam." Just as Tiger Woods scored the "Tiger Slam" by winning golf's four major tournaments in succession -- but not in the same year -- a Rolex victory for the Ganassi team at Daytona would complete a sweep of consecutive versions of the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400 and the Rolex 24.
The key to Ganassi's success? "The important thing is having people who believe in the way I do things," said Ganassi.
To no one's surprise, the drivers who helped Ganassi win at Daytona and Indy last year, Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti, respectively, were again announced this week as co-drivers for the No. 02 Riley-BMW entry along with two other Ganassi regulars, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya. These four hot-shoes will drive what is expected to be "the hare" that pushes the pace for the Ganassi team in the 24-hour, because all of these wheelmen are looking for a Rolex watch symbolic of victory and not any championship points. Meanwhile, the No. 01 entry of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who are looking to defend their points title in the Rolex Series, are expected to drive their Riley-BMW at a more conservative pace. They will be joined this year by Ganassi's IndyCar team newcomer Graham Rahal, who father's Bobby co-drove to victory at Daytona in 1981 aboard a Porsche 935 Turbo, and veteran BMW driver Joey Hand.
Despite the fact Porsche-powered teams have won the last two editions of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Ganassi's entries remain the favorites going into this year's event. An inexplicable engine failure took out the No. 02 "all-star" car last year after its drivers dominated the first eight hours. Only a surprise, unscheduled pit stop by Justin Wilson then cost the No. 01 team a victory on Sunday afternoon.
While Ganassi's team sustains most of its driving line-up, the core drivers at the former Brumos Racing team now known as Action Express, which combined to win the last two Rolex races under Porsche power, also remains much the same. When it comes to the "Chip Slam," Action Express is expected to give the Ganassi team some of its stiffest competition.
Ultimately, the Rolex 24 is a team manager's race, because of the emphasis on preparation and race-long strategy. Mike Hull continues to call the shots for the Ganassi squad, winners of three straight Rolex races from 2006-2008. Gary Nelson, the man behind the Car of Tomorrow for NASCAR and who directed last year's Rolex victory, will again be overseeing the effort at Action Express.