This weekend’s 54th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marks a new chapter for Chip Ganassi Racing as the Ford GT makes it competition debut, ahead of a globe-trotting, dual-championship program for one of the sport’s most successful operations.
Sportscar365 caught up with Ganassi IMSA team manager Mike O’Gara to get his thoughts on the team’s transition from DP to GTLM, its collaboration with the sister FIA World Endurance Championship team, as well as his goals heading into the car’s debut race.
How does it feel to be the new kids on the block, so to say, in GTLM?
“It’s exciting. It was a relief to get the cars on the track [at the roar]. Even though it’s the same series, it’s a completely different set of rules.
“It hasn’t just been building two new cars over the winter, it’s been everything…. Pit equipment, fueling, the scrutineering… everything’s different.
“It’s like starting over, pretty much. It would like be going to a series we never raced in, pretty much. Luckily there’s plenty of familiar faces with Ford, and the same guys that were with us last year.
“All the IMSA guys have been a huge help because I’ve got questions every day on what goes where or what this sensor is for, etc. It’s exciting.”
Given the strength of the class, does entering GTLM make the team step up its game a bit?
“We’re certainly not backing down any, I can say that. Any series we race in, we try to do it properly. So I wouldn’t say we’ve put any more or less effort than we did with the DP cars. That was a full effort and this is too. It’s just been a little bit of a refocus.
“Our focus has just changed. The DPs, we had run them for so long, it was all detail stuff.
“Each year we’d change a little something here or there to make it a little bit nicer or operate it a little better or figure out a cooler or quicker backup system, whether it was changing brakes or radiators or gearboxes. It was fine-tuning.
“Now, we’re on the course-knob with [the Ford GT], taking big chunks, making sure the engine starts, making sure if shifts and making sure it stops. It’s the same volume of effort, it’s just directed in a different way.”
Do you think it’s a good time to enter GTLM given the new regulations?
“I think so. Guys like Corvette and Porsche that’s been doing it for years had to adjust but I think it’s kind of leveled the playing field for everybody this year with the new regulations and the new scrutineering they’re doing.
“I think it’s a good time to come in, especially with all of the other factory support, too. It’s exciting to be a part of that, too.
“I grew up around racing and I know the days of the ’70s and ’80s when it was all big factory efforts. I feel like it’s kind of getting back to that now so it’s cool to be a part of that.”
How will the IMSA integrate and work with the WEC operation?
“Engineers are sharing data all the time. Ford helps us a lot with simulations and a lot of stuff and that’s shared between both teams.
“Both cars will be set up data-wise, identically, so the data they will gather in the UK, we’ll be able to overlay with our data.
“George and a few of his guys are here this weekend and I’m sure the first couple of events that the WEC team runs, myself and our engineers will be there with them running the cars as well.
“Even if it’s on different continents, it is almost one four-car team. When we go attack Le Mans, that’s the plan. Everything’s open.
“The way Ganassi operates between our four IndyCars, the two [NASCAR] Cup cars and two DP cars, it’s all open. There’s no agenda. Everyone works together and everyone shares data. Everyone knows what everyone else is running and this will be no different.
“That’s the biggest contributor to our success in other series, is that it’s one team. If you can share data from four cars, you can attack so many other problems and test so many more things than four single-car teams can. We’ll definitely be working side-by-side with those guys.”
What are your goals for the Rolex 24?
“The first step is to finish the 24 hours. If we run the whole time and don’t break anything major, that will be a huge hurdle for us with the car, with as few miles we have on it.
“We race to win and that’s what we do. A team that comes out and finishes fourth doesn’t put any less effort into the team that wins. These guys have worked all through Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Years.
“I’d love to get a win for Chip, for Ford, and especially for all these guys that have given up all their family time and holiday time… We want to win the race, that’s why we’re here.”