An interview with: DARIO FRANCHITTI and CHIP GANASSI
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Seasons Greetings. Welcome to the start of the Chip Ganassi Racing-INDYCAR teleconference. Our guests today are team owner Chip Ganassi and driver Dario Franchitti.
We're gathering today to honor and talk about Target Chip Ganassi Racing's fourth consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series championship and Dario Franchitti's third consecutive title and fourth title overall in the last five years. Remember, the only year in that span that Dario didn't win the crown in 2008 he didn't compete in the series, so he's on quite a run.
Everyone knows that this title was clinched in tragic circumstances in October in Las Vegas. I'd like to thank Chip, Dario and the entire Target Chip Ganassi racing team on behalf of INDYCAR for the classy fashion in which they handled the aftermath of such a difficult period that normally would have been a time of celebration. From all of us and everyone in the INDYCAR community, thank you very much.
First some background on Chip and Dario and the team. This is the ninth Indy-style title for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and their fourth in a row as Scott Dixon won in 2008 and Dario was won the last three. Only Hendrick Motorsports with 10 titles has more championships since 1994 in major worldwide racing. TCGR even has more titles than the vaunted Ferrari in Formula One, so it's quite an accomplishment.
This is the fourth championship for Dario, as I mentioned. He had four wins in 2011 in the No. 10 Target Honda.
Chip, Dario, thank you very much for joining us during this busy time of the year.
Chip, first a question for you. You've always mentioned that the formula for your success in all of your championships is the people and execution. Was there anything different, any new ingredient added this year, that made this title different than any of the championships you won either in CART, Champ Car or your prior IndyCar Series titles?
CHIP GANASSI: I think it's interesting. All titles are a year-long fought battle. I mean, they all have their ups and downs. Each one of the them, you feel like there's some point in the year when you've just blown it all. I mean, we come into each year wanting to win the championship. We talk about that often. But there always comes a point in the year where you say, Gee, it looks like it's out of our grasp, we're not going to do it. Each year, through a variety of circumstances, the grueling season, the ups and downs, the glories and the disasters, they all play a part of it.
But you have so many people that work so, so hard putting this thing together. I can look back and remember times when I thought, 'Oh, we're not going to win it in 2011, seems like it's over.' But somewhere, somebody in the team picks you up and says, Hey, we can still do this.
That's what's great about having a great team of people, whether it's having a great driver, having a great team manager, having a great engineer, having a great crew chief. It takes a whole team these days to win these things.
I couldn't be more proud of our people. But there are times when you feel like you're out of it.
MODERATOR: Dario, as an offshoot of Chip's answer, did you have similar thoughts during the season where you thought, 'Man, this thing is slipping away, we're losing grasp of it?' If so, what was the race or the point in the season where you said, 'We got this thing back?'
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Chip said it well. I haven't won nearly as many championships as him. If you just take the last four, each one is a little bit different. The ups and downs, like Chip said, the way the season ebbs and flows, I think one thing I've learned is to keep a very open mind.
There's not been a point in any of these championships where I thought, 'Yeah, we've got this,' or on the other side where, 'We're out of this thing.' I've just kept an open mind and tried to each week, each moment in the car, just get the most you can, make that next pass, make that next move. That's kind of the way I've dealt with things, trying to keep it balanced, not to get too crazy excited when we had a big points lead or get too desperate and upset when that lead eroded or we were behind. That seems to have worked very well.
One of the reasons I can do that, I have so much faith in every single person that works for Team Target. They do their job; I don't have to worry about it. They're the best in the business. They give me such confidence, whether it's Barry and Chip and Chris calling the strategy, Chris with the engineer and the boys on the car, Kevin O'Donnell, all the guys. I don't worry about it.
CHIP GANASSI: If I can add one thing there. Dario said, 'Get the most you can.' I think the best thing about having Dario as the driver 'get the most you can' doesn't mean on the first lap or at half the distance. That's the thing about a championship driver: He understands when to get the most you can. Getting the most you can in the first 10 laps doesn't mean much toward the championship. That's what some of these young drivers have to learn. Last time I checked, they give away all the points at the end.
That's what I like about having a veteran driver that has a nose for the finish, knows every day you're not going to have a perfect car. We've had times we haven't had a winning car but we got the most out of it, though. That's what it takes. It's getting the most out of your car on days when it's maybe not the best car out there.
Nobody's going to have the best car every single race. But getting the most out of it when you don't have the best car, not be scraping it off the fence, is the true mark of a champion in my eyes.
MODERATOR: That's great perspective. Thank you both.
We'll open it up now to media questions.
Q. Dario, we've had a couple of months since Las Vegas. We had a really competitive year where I think every team towards the top got every last drop out of the last INDYCAR package. For you, with 2011 almost completely in the rearview mirror, how much are you anticipating enjoying having to tap into some unskilled talents for new drivers in that we have a new car? What is it like for you to be able to go back to your CART and Champ Car days and really have a great influence on how your car will perform next year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's been fun and a little frustrating, too. I did most of the running on the Honda car in November, and Scott took over and did a lot of running and a lot of work in December. So things have moved on a little bit since I drove the car.
I really have enjoyed - fully expected to - working with Honda again, tweaking the bits and pieces, working on all those areas we know we'll need to get right to be competitive. That's been a lot of fun.
Working with the car has been a little bit more frustrating. Scott says they're starting to make some progress now. But for me it's very important that the series allows us to fix the car and to work with the car and not paint us into too tight a box.
I've seen a couple articles written that talk about the imbalances of the car and stuff. We're starting to fix that. But it's important the series allows the latitude to adjust the car to different driving styles. It's one thing saying everybody must drive the same stuff, but that's going to suit certain drivers and hurt other drivers. They need to allow that latitude to adjust the car to everybody's different driving styles.
I would say that's the one thing that's kind of concerning me. The car right now seems to suit my style, but in fairness they need to really work on that. Hopefully they can come up with an elegant engineering solution to fixing the problems of the imbalance the car's had.
Q. Knowing that you just tackled your fourth championship using this previous formula, how much of an influence, if we're looking at separating the top teams, we really are getting to the offseason race which teams come up with the best testing plans will have a greater influence on the championship outcome. Is that something that you're also paying great attention to, to make sure that you're bringing all of your experience and Dixon's, et cetera, that you win this off-season race before the championship even starts?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There's definitely a part to that. With the manufacturer race that's coming up as well with Lotus, Chevy and Honda, I'm excited about that part of it. It's going to be interesting to see who gets it right, who doesn't get it so right, so closely they're going to be matched. That's one part of it. I have total faith in the Target team they'll get as much as they possibly can out of this car.
Scott and I are working as hard as we can. Scott has worked unbelievably hard the last month working not only on the track, but on simulators and stuff. The thing about Scott and I, we have such different driving styles, I think we can sort of really give both extremes to the team working on the car.
Q. Dario, a lot of times when we look at sports, we kind of get wrapped up in streaks. Jimmie Johnson had his long streak. Baseball you've had the Yankees. You're kind of part of a great sports streak, too. Do you get the sense what this is all about and how much further you want to keep this thing going?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, it's great at this time of year to look back and look at those four championships, the three in a row that Chip and the Target team and I have managed to put together.
As far as looking forward, that's tough. I don't think you can do that. The only thing I can look forward to is giving maximum effort to try to be successful again next year, to, again as we said earlier, get the best out of every week.
Do I want to win another championship? Absolutely. I'm more interested in thinking about the execution of that, how we're going to make that happen right now, what it would mean. There are a lot of very good teams and drivers that are a little bit upset, shall we say, that we've been hogging the championship trophies, and they're going to come back stronger and harder next year. We're going to have to fight harder than ever to compete against.
Q. You sound like a driver who still has a lot of fun doing this. Has there ever been times when you thought about the next phase or step of your life beyond driving?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I haven't really thought about that so much. If you asked me that question five years ago, I would say, I think about that sometimes. I would say the last really four or five years, I haven't looked that far ahead. I've just kept my focus really quite close and am enjoying what I'm doing, stay focused on that, being successful. I think that has worked.
In some ways being part of the Target team with Chip as well has kind of taught me that, how those guys go racing. That's been kind of a lesson I've learned: keep the focus on the here and now and try to do your maximum.
Q. Chip, we don't have a race schedule for next year yet. They've announced a race in Detroit and China, as well. Can you comment on those two events? I'm curious about your sponsors, are they excited about going to China?
CHIP GANASSI: Let's go after Detroit first. Obviously, that's always been a good market for us. Being around obviously Detroit with everything that has to do with the car business. But I think more importantly we have a promoter who is a friendly promoter, if you will, with the sanctioning body. I think that makes a better marriage when you have a willing promoter like that that wants to have an event like that. That says a lot for the series and says a lot for the kind of leadership that Roger (Penske) shows.
Number two, in terms of China, I think our sponsors feel that a race offshore like that, whether it's in Japan or China, I think they've always sort of thought, let me say at least Target has always sort of thought, one race offshore is fine, adds a little bit of caché or whatever, but I don't think we want to get three, four, five races outside the country. I'd have to say that's going to start to have a detrimental effect on the series I would think. One or two outside the country, I should say outside of North America, maybe you can include Mexico in that, once you get outside of Mexico, U.S., Canada, I'm not sure I'd be in favor of a lot of races outside that for our series.
The question is, maybe you separate it, if it would start to grow like that, have two separate championships or something like that, and you could choose to participate or not.
I think obviously, whether it's the sanctioning body or the teams, we all have vivid in our minds the financial crisis of a few years ago. So I think it makes us a little bit more nervous going forward with plans like that. There's so many venues here in the U.S. that I think we can make a success of. It would be a lot easier than traveling halfway around the world.
But I think one or two outside is fine for a little bit of caché.
Q. Dario, you started to touch on some of the challenges you've been facing with the new car. What kind of things would you like to see opened up for adjustment or development for the teams, maybe some stuff you had the ability to change in the past that you haven't in recent years?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I really don't know. Have to talk to the engineers about that. But something that gives us adjustment. It doesn't have to be something that you have to spend lots of money on to develop it. Just give us some adjustment, give us some latitude to work with these things. Don't pin us into that tight, tight box. That was what I would say.
I think with Will Phillips, I think we have a good guy there. Any of the conversations I've had with him, he knows his stuff. So I think we've got the right guy there. Hopefully we're allowed to just work with this thing a little bit and we can come up with some good solutions.
CHIP GANASSI: If I could add to Dario's answer, I think it's important to point out, everybody has questions about the new car. I think you have to put yourself back in the mode of the car we're retiring now, when that car was developed, it took two or three years to get that car right. When we were getting new cars every year in CART, they were just evolutions of a previous car.
This new car is somewhat of a revolution. It might take a little extra time to get it what I would say right for everybody, not necessarily right for just one or two teams. It may take a while to get it right.
I think INDYCAR is keeping an open mind. They've already come out and said, 'OK, we need to change the testing rule.' They seem open to changing things when we need to. So hopefully they'll keep that attitude going forward.
I don't think anybody is saying anybody's perfect here or everybody is imperfect. It's just a process we have to go working through. The mere fact that the car didn't come out of the box at the current performance level of a car that's been being developed for 12 years, I don't think that's the end of the world. We just need to buckle down and get to work on it.
MODERATOR: Dario, with your third straight championship, you tied Ted Horn for second place all time in the most consecutive championships. Only Sebastien Bourdais with his four straight Champ Car titles has more consecutive titles in the history of North American Indy-car racing. Have you taken any time at all in this offseason to sit back, and I know you have years left in the car, but have you taken any thought about your legacy or place among the legends? You may not like to hear it, but you've really secured your legend with this title even more so.
CHIP GANASSI: Quit telling him that stuff. I still have to pay him, you know (laughter).
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't see it that way. I'm very proud of the championships and the race wins. Luckily we're climbing that leaderboard on both those things. But, yeah, I haven't really sat back and thought about any of that yet.
I think that's probably for retirement, which I think is going to be quite a ways off. Again, very proud of it, but I don't think in those terms, really.
Q. I was wondering if you could say a few words about how you feel now about Dan Wheldon, how you felt about the season, how you felt about him as a friend and a driver.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: What happened with Dan was absolutely tragic. We miss him. Really, I don't know what else to say apart from that. Especially the sort of last couple weeks, because of being at all the awards things back here in the UK. If he was here, he would have been here with me, he would have been celebrating his Indy 500, and I would have been celebrating the championship. We would have had a good time. He would have been getting the plaudits he richly deserved. Whether it was his family or his dad, Clive, getting these awards on his behalf, it was pretty tough.
I suppose the one really bright thing that came out of it all was we did a go-kart race in Milton Keynes. An old teammate of mine organized this race. We had a great time and raised a bunch of money for Alzheimer's in Dan's memory. That was great. He would have loved that.
He was obviously a great friend and a terrific competitor. I think I speak for the whole racing community, especially the INDYCAR family, that we'll all really, really miss him.
Q. Are you happy with the safety moves that INDYCAR are currently undertaking?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think INDYCAR have been working incredibly hard. INDYCAR has always worked very hard on safety, I think. If you look at all the innovations that have come out, the biggest one being the SAFER barrier.
I think Dan's accident was a catalyst for a renewal of that effort. We've all been working on that. Yeah, I think right now I'm happy with what I see and with the effort that everybody's putting in, the fact that the drivers have very much been included in that. I take my hat off to the IndyCar Series for doing that.
Q. Chip, talking about the new car and engine, I detect a little hesitancy in your voice. Is there enough time between now and the start of the season to get the equipment to where you can put on a good show?
CHIP GANASSI: Don't read any hesitancy in my voice. I was just really pointing out some facts. The fact is there's no hesitancy in that. Having been in the sport a long time, you just need a dose of reality every once in a while. With a new car, they don't fall off the truck and set new lap records right out of the box. I mean, you have to take your time and work into that slowly, do the right thing. They take a little tweaking sometimes, i.e., every car in the past. That's all.
The fact that we have a new rules package, a new governing way of doing things with the new car here, time will tell if that's the right way to go about it or not. It's just a process we have to go through.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Can I say one thing on that?
We can fix this. We can fix the car. We've done it before, as Chip says. All the teams have done it before. We can fix it if we're allowed to fix it. Hopefully we can do that.
CHIP GANASSI: Right.
Q. I guess what I was wondering is, how would something manifest itself on a track? Would one team be markedly better and another worse?
CHIP GANASSI: That's a good question. It's probably a little early in the process. I don't want to come out and say that nobody knows. I would say it's a little early in the process to say how it would manifest itself on the track right now.
I think in terms of road racing, the car is fine. It just needs a little help on the ovals. There's only three ovals right now from what we're hearing. That may be a blessing right off the bat.
Q. Chip, what is your opinion of the job that Randy Bernard is doing, especially over the last couple months, to get the series moving forward?
CHIP GANASSI: There's a lot of facets in this sport that someone coming in from the outside has to learn. No one has been a more willing learner than Randy Bernard.
Look at the things that have gone on since he came into the sport. We come with a new car, a new engine formula, a new rules package, new way of buying and distributing the cars and undertaking the testing. Obviously the Las Vegas tragedy. The guy, just about every time he comes up for air, he gets pushed back under the water again.
The good news is I think Randy's shown great ability to breathe underwater. So he's doing fine, I think.
MODERATOR: Dario, somebody might look at this year's points standings and last years, and say it was a battle both years between you and Will Power. What was different about this year? What was different about the head-to-head fight you had with Will down the stretch?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it spilled over off the track. Any of the championship battles I've been involved with before, we've always kept it pretty much strictly on the track and fought out terrific battles on the track. Some people maybe saw the lack of kind of banter or any kind of problems outside the car, maybe they saw that as us taking it a little easy on each other.
On the track, the competition was as hard as I've ever had. I'm talking about '07, '09 and '10. This year it spilled over off the track a couple times. That was something we saw. That was probably the biggest difference. The competition level was very much the same.
I think the biggest difference is it ended up being very much a two-horse race because Scott (Dixon) had such horrendous luck early on in the championship, otherwise I think it would have been a three-horse race again.
Q. Dario, as part of the championship edge, you walked the St. Pete track before that race. Do you walk every racetrack before each race? How do you think that adds up or helps you with winning a championship?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think winning these championships for me is all about the details. That's how we as a team can differentiate ourselves from other teams. One of those things I tend to do is I spend a lot of time, especially on the street courses, walking the track. Some of the tracks are easier to get around than others. Some of the ovals, they won't even let you out there, so that stops that. The street courses, I tend to spend a lot of time out there looking at the variations. I've done that at most places. It's something I've always done and it seems to help me.
Q. Do you get any company lately? You're winning these championships, walking these tracks. Do any of the other drivers try to join you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The whole series, every INDYCAR driver and team, have the option to walk the track at certain times throughout the weekend. I think it's basically Thursday often there's an hour or two put aside for us to walk the track. I think the difference is at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, I'm pretty much out there on my own. I'm not one for company at that point. I just like to go out and have a quiet think to myself.
Q. I remember last year you said it took a number of months to sink in as to what you achieved that season. Has it fully sunk in what you've achieved now? If so, when did that happen?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, it's been obviously a lot different this year with losing Dan at the last race. It's not been something I thought about that much.
It did sink in. It's bizarre. Last year it was in the middle of the outback when I was on a motorbike. This year I think I was driving somewhere when it hit me. Last year I felt it was kind of really joy.
CHIP GANASSI: Is there any way we can talk about not having things hit you when you're on a motorbike (laughter)?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Last year was kind of joy and that. This year wasn't that. We had our team Christmas party on Saturday night. Team Target, Chip, everybody, we're very proud of this championship. For me, I don't feel much like celebrating it because of that, and I said that before. But it's something, again, I'm very proud of, of what the team and I were able to do.
Q. Do you think there was more pressure in going for three in a row and there will be more going for four in a row?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I don't think there's any more pressure. I think you've got to keep the motivation up. When you're going for that first championship, you've never won one, you've got that great motivation to do it but no experience. The trick is now when you're going for your second, third, fourth, fifth, whatever, is to use that experience you got and to keep that motivation. If you can keep that motivation, you've got a good thing going there.
I feel motivated for it, and I'm lucky I'm in a team full of people that if I'm not motivated they'll motivate me pretty quickly. I'm ready to do it again. I think it's more about the motivation than anything else.
MODERATOR: Chip, I'm sure you see a lot of similar traits among your four Indy-style championship drivers with Jimmy, Alex, Juan, Dario, Scott. What is unique about Dario? What trait does he have as a driver or person that the other four guys didn't have?
CHIP GANASSI: That's hard to say. What trait does he have that the other four don't have?
MODERATOR: What's unique about this guy about the way he operates that maybe is not something you'd see normally in a champion driver?
CHIP GANASSI: His sunglasses (laughter). He's got some different sunglasses than those other guys. Have you ever seen them? He and his wife's sunglasses get mixed up sometimes in the drawer, and it's really scary (laughter).
I'm serious. That's not a joke.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely (laughter).
CHIP GANASSI: You know, I don't know what makes him different. I see a lot of similarities. I will say that some guys are Friday, Saturday drivers. Some guys are Sunday drivers. What I mean by that in my language is some guys are better at getting the car ready on Friday and Saturday. Some guys are just sheer racers, you know what I mean? If you took a guy like Zanardi, he had this great ability to transform himself Friday night and Saturday to an all-out racer on Sunday. I would say Dario does the same thing. He's not the mad scientist. He's very anal or cerebral about it on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday he turns into this racing guy. In that way he would be similar to Zanardi.
He's similar to Vasser in that. While he is very cerebral and serious about racing, he finds time to have a smile, a joke or a laugh during the weekend that reminds me of Jimmy Vasser a little bit. He has the ability to put together one lap like Montoya would do from time to time in qualifying. I would say: 'We're going into qualifying, I'm not feeling very good about qualifying.' All of a sudden he pops up to the top of the chart. Where does that come from? So he has that ability like Montoya.
Like his current teammate Scott Dixon, he has the ability to understand the whole picture, understand where he is in the whole picture, where he needs to be. Without much fanfare, he figures out how to get the job done. I would say that's a lot like Dixon.
In terms of what he has strictly to himself to help him toward the championship, I don't have a good answer for you.
MODERATOR: Interesting perspective and comparison to the other guys.
CHIP GANASSI: He has a little bit of each of those guys in him. I'm sure he has a lot of talents that he picked up from Jackie Stewart when he drove for him. All those sort of things.
Every driver's career is a mosaic of little bricks that are laid one at a time. Nobody lays 10 bricks at a time. They're all one at a time and they're all individual in a different pattern, if you will, but a lot of similar ones just in different places.
Q. Talking about championships, I know you both have a lot of experience with this. I interviewed John Force way back when. He has 15 championships. He said, I won the first championship, I thought that was really great. When he got to the second one, he said that was really a lot tougher. Is that the way it goes?
CHIP GANASSI: I think so. I mean, yeah, he's right. He knows something about championships. He's right. The second one gets harder. Then what happens is, the thing you do is, yeah, we have a lot of experience at winning these championships. But, quite frankly, it's a scary thing because you realize how fragile of a sport you're in, and it can turn the other way quickly through no fault of your own.
We saw at New Hampshire this year with Dario getting taken out on a restart. I never saw that in my life, the leader getting taken out on a restart. I've never seen that. There's always something that can happen that you're never prepared for.
So really through no fault of your own a lot of times, for me personally, I don't want to speak for Dario, but for me personally I think of 77 more ways we can lose it than the two or three ways we need to do to win it, from my perspective. I'm sure he has a whole different look at something like that.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, each one, as we said earlier, is different. They're difficult for different reasons. Each championship has kind of its own shape to it. I think they're all equally difficult for me.
I think Chip is right. There's the fragile thing between getting it right and getting it wrong. It can be sometimes something you've had nothing to do with.
It's a tough thing to get right and sometimes you don't know why it's going that way, you just keep doing the best you can. Those days when it doesn't go your way, you get back up, dust yourself off and go again.
Q. Dario, you talk about how much (engineer) Chris (Simmons) has been part of the championship. How much you figuring out how the car works will determine how long you stay at this? Between you and Chris in terms of how you can develop the 2012 car, how much do you think your comfort level with that car will determine how active you stay in the series?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think if we can get to it point where we're winning races, then I think we'll be OK. I think you got to talk to Chip about that, as well. If we're not winning races, it's not going well, I don't want to be around making up the numbers. Chip I know won't want me driving the car if I'm making up the numbers.
Chris and I and Julian and Eric and every person on the engineering staff, Dixie, the guys at G2, as well, we'll do all we need to to mold the car and get what we need. Scott and I will be working with our engineers, and the other guys will, too, on race weekends to get the thing right. Hopefully we can do that, and we'll see how it works out.
Q. Switching gears a little bit. The upcoming Rolex 24. Dario, just about the prestige of that event internationally. You're going to be working with a couple of the NASCAR guys. And, Chip, pairing McMurray and Montoya for that event.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Our biggest problem with the Rolex 24 is getting the other drivers to understand when Montoya is in the car, when we're not in the car, we're going to have a sign on the car when Montoya goes out, there will be a sign that says: Montoya is in the car, and it's not us. Last year he would hit about everything out there. When we would go out, people would extract their revenge (laughter).
We had a tough 24 last year. To finish 1-2 was pretty impressive. I think that says a lot about the Grand-Am team that Chip has assembled with Timmy. How many Rolex 24s has that one car finished?
CHIP GANASSI: First four times and the second three times.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Being the 50th anniversary, it's a big one. Everybody wants to go there and win the watch. It's a great way to start the season.
All joking aside, I look forward to working with Scott. But especially having Juan and Jamie in the car again, you know, we always have a good time doing that. But we're pretty competitive about the whole thing, too. We'll be giving it our best shot and see how we go.
CHIP GANASSI: I'll tell you what that Rolex does for our team. It does it from everyone from the NASCAR team to the INDYCAR team to the Grand-Am team. What that is, you go down there in February, late January, it's a great event because everybody's there, not only our guys from all the three different teams, but just a whole field of people from all over the world that you know from racing, drivers, managers, engineers, mechanics. You just see a lot of people down there.
It comes at a time of the year when the championships aren't on the line. Everybody's fresh from the little vacation. You go down there and everybody is in a good mood. For us, it's really jump-started the season for us, the past six or seven seasons, however we've many we've been down there. That starts our season off with a little spark. We've been really fortunate I think across all the teams.
So just to have such a great event like that. I mean, at the end of the day it makes absolutely no sense it's the first race the year, but it's just so much damn fun. We go down there and we're just as serious as can be because we're sort of the target down there these days. I feel so lucky and so honored to have the group of guys to put together down there to go down there. They're all just taking shots at each other all weekend, but they're so damn serious when it comes to driving the car and what's going on.
There's, I don't know, some real obvious things that come out. I remember Montoya's first year showing up there. That was the first race he drove for us when he came back from Formula One. He actually ended up winning the race that year. I remember him saying, Man, I don't want to be the idiot to crash the car here. We're doing so well, I just don't want to crash. Since then he's probably hit everything except the guy selling hotdogs (laughter).
Just to have Scott and Dario there, Jamie, Pruett, Rojas, we have Joey Hand coming back who did such a great job for us last year. You see everybody down there, it puts last year behind us, gets next year started. It's just a great, great event.
We practically entertain just as many people there as we do at the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. It's really become a great event.
MODERATOR: With that, Dario, Chip, thank you very much for joining us. Again, congratulations on your championship in 2011, your IZOD IndyCar Series championship, and we wish you all the best of luck in 2012. Enjoy your holiday season.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thank you.
CHIP GANASSI: Thank you. Merry Christmas, everybody.
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