Ganassi, Ford to scope out GT competition at COTA

Mike O’Gara (left), team manager at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGR), talks with Mike Hull, managing director at CGR.

Wes Duenkel

The Lone Star Le Mans brings together two of the top sports car racing series in the world, and this time next year, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will be fielding factory Ford GT race cars in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races.

That’s why this weekend’s event at Circuit of The Americas will prove to be a valuable learning experience for Ford Performance and the Ganassi team, as they gear up for an ambitious globe-trotting 2016 season.

While both organizations are fully focused on delivering continued success with the Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley prototype of Scott Pruett and Joey Hand in Saturday’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race, one eye will also be on the proceedings in the FIA WEC, which has slightly different rules and procedures from IMSA competition. 

"We have already been doing a bit of recon, having attended the 24 Hours of LeMans for the last two years," said Mike O’Gara, Chip Ganassi Racing team manager. "There is always more to learn, though. 

"There will be many areas that we will be keeping an eye on, such as specific garage and pit equipment FIA WEC teams use, pit stop techniques, and even how the race is run from a sanctioning body perspective."

Ganassi will run a pair of EcoBoost-powered Ford GTs full-time in both series next year, which will result in a significant increase in crew compared to its current single-car prototype effort in the TUDOR Championship.

For the WEC program, a dedicated new team based in the UK will be assembled with the support of technical partner Multimatic. O’Gara expects some of the team’s current IndyCar crew to move over to the expanded effort in IMSA.

While both teams will be capable of operating independently of each other, there will still be a significant amount of crossover and utilization of resources, both during winter testing as well as once the seasons begin.

"Much of Ganassi Racing’s success throughout the years can be directly attributed to the teamwork and cooperation that we practice between our cars in each series," O’Gara said. "The IMSA/WEC relationship will be no different. 

"This fall, the two teams will test together, and once the seasons start, the teams will share setup information, track data and simulation results. The engineers will also work closely not only with setups, but also car improvements for both safety and durability."

Both Ganassi operations, totaling four Ford GTs, will be on hand for the anticipated COTA double-header again next year, although the two teams hope to pool their resources a full three months earlier, in the car and teams’ debut in the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two FIA WEC contenders will automatically be entered, while the IMSA teams will need invitations to race at Le Mans.

"We hope to run there as one big team to try to win that race for Ford, Chip, and everyone else that has been involved with the program," O’Gara said.

As O’Gara points out, teamwork will be key to success on both sides of the pond next year, as the Detroit manufacturer and fabled American team seek race wins and championships in two distinctly unusual and competitive environments.