A Win-Win For Chip Ganassi
One thing about this information age we live in – there are no surprises. Although there was a well-publicized press-conference held yesterday to announce a new Ganassi satellite team, we already knew most of the details including driver lineup, sponsors and the fact that they would be located at Don Prudhomme’s drag-racing shop in nearby Brownsburg, IN. About the only thing I learned that I didn’t already know were the car numbers.
For the record, Ganassi will field a separate two-car team through the Brownsburg shop for drivers Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball. Rahal will drive the No. 38 Service Central Dallara, while former Firestone Indy lights driver Charlie Kimball will pilot the No. 83 Novo Nordisk backed Dallara.
Both drivers have an interesting tie to their sponsors. Service Central backed Jay Howard in Sarah Fisher Racing’s second car in 2010. Is it pure coincidence that Rahal and Service Central hooked up after Rahal drove a few races for Sarah Fisher in 2010? Novo Nordisk is a healthcare company that is heavily involved in the management of diabetes. Charlie Kimball was diagnosed with diabetes in 2007. He will be the first diabetic driver to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series. But he will not be the first to compete in the Indianapolis 500.
Diabetic driver Howdy Wilcox II (no relation to the 1919 winner) finished second in the 1932 Indianapolis 500. Although he had already qualified for the 1933 race when officials discovered his condition, he was disqualified from running. The track physician foolishly feared that he may be subject to epileptic seizures. An attempted boycott among his fellow drivers ensued. On the morning of the race, Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker essentially informed the drivers that there was going to be a race even if it consisted of him driving a car around the track by himself for two hundred laps. The drivers quickly abandoned their stance. A young rookie named Mauri Rose was assigned to the Wilcox car. Rose started in the back in the forty-second spot and finished thirty-fifth.
A lot has changed since those days. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. My daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was seven. She is now twenty-two. It is not a kind disease. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was diagnosed in 2008 and has done a good job managing his condition. Kimball has performed well despite his affliction. He finished fourth in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights while driving for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport. I applaud the efforts of Kimball and Novo Nordisk. Rest assured, you will be hearing a lot about managing diabetes while leading an otherwise normal healthy life.
This announcement is just the latest batch of good news for the IZOD IndyCar Series. This brings two more full-time rides to the series. For those of you that have been clamoring to get more Americans into the series, this added two more to the count. These are two large companies that will possibly make other large companies take note of the growing list of full-time sponsors to the series.
I don’t share the unbridled optimism for their performance that many do, however. I’ve seen other satellite operations carrying well-known names fall way short of expectations – most notably, the joint-effort between Carl Hogan and Roger Penske in 1996. Much was expected as Roger Penske farmed out Emerson Fittipaldi to the satellite organization known as Hogan-Penske Racing. It was a series of mostly DNF’s until Fittipaldi’s career ended with a broken neck against the wall at Michigan.
Ganassi has been involved with successful one-off satellite operations in the past. In 2009, he ran Alex Lloyd in conjunction with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The car was prepared as well as the other Ganassi cars for qualifying, but the @her Energy Drink special didn’t fare too well on race day.
I don’t blame Ganassi. As Curt Cavin said last night – this is pure genius on Ganassi’s part. He has created his own feeder system for his “A-Team” for both drivers and crew members. The Brownsburg team can serve as the “mule” to try out different setups, while the two target cars are vying for the championship. I don’t know if Graham Rahal will be happy serving as the “practice squad” for the other team. I’m sure he will want to go out from the beginning and try to win races, which he should.
It will be interesting to watch the dynamics play out to see if this new Ganassi team gets the same treatment as the established Target team, or if they will be made to feel like step-children. In his three-year stint in the series, Graham Rahal hasn’t demonstrated that he is the best at following suit and being the ultimate team player. He wants to win and win now. He set the bar kind of high in his very first race – a win at St. Petersburg in 2008. Since then, there have been flashes of brilliance intermingled with youthful mistakes and some frankly uninspired drives. I sometimes wonder how his career would have played out had he not won that first race.
But there were plenty of smiles and congratulatory handshakes going around yesterday. Although there were no surprises in the announcement, it was still big and noteworthy. Chip Ganassi has plenty to smile about. This was a win-win situation for him on many fronts. Charlie Kimball should be happy. To go from Indy Lights to a full-time ride with Ganassi is almost too much to comprehend. But it’s Graham Rahal I want to watch. The B-team at Ganassi has the potential to be better than the A-Team at most other teams; but I’m really curious to see if Graham is still smiling in mid-August. That will be the true indicator on how this has all played out.