INDIANAPOLIS – There’s a memorable old quote about Chip Ganassi, uttered in jest quite a few championships and quite a few Indianapolis 500 wins ago.
The context is long gone, but what former driver and IndyCar team owner Jimmy Vasser said on a race weekend at Milwaukee a quarter century ago remains a humorous sound bite.
“There’s no ‘i’ in team,” the driver Vasser deadpanned about his car owner, “but there is in Chip.”
After the 106th running of the 500 – not just the finish but the whole 200 laps – it’s funny in a different way. It’s clear Chip Ganassi Racing is all about team.
“I just reflect on the past few weeks and the past few months of having these five guys around, working as one team,” Ganassi said Sunday after Marcus Ericsson delivered Chip Ganassi Racing its fifth Indy victory, its first in 10 years.
“Everybody cheering their teammates on all the time. When someone on the team does something good, the other guys couldn’t be happier, you know what I mean? That’s what’s so nice for me to have to deal with.
“You saw today we had different times of the race different cars in the lead. We came here at the beginning of the month wanting to win the race. That’s, in fact, what we did.”
Most of the storylines coming into the day involved the Ganassi team.
Scott Dixon had become the fastest pole-winner in Indy history and would start first for the fifth time. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion had won the race just once, in 2008, but he was the favorite.
Alex Palou, who won the series title for Ganassi last year, was lining up alongside Dixon. If they could work in tandem, taking turns drafting off each other, fuel savings could make the difference for one or both.
Jimmie Johnson, the megastar seven-time NASCAR champion, would be racing an Indy car on the famed oval where he had won four times in a stock car. And Johnson had been fast. Drivers such as two-time 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya included Johnson high on their list of potential winners.
Tony Kanaan, the popular 2013 winner, was back for what might have been his final try. That he is 47 years old and that this would be his only IndyCar race of the season were irrelevant to the conversation. Kanaan is always a threat at Indy. Always.
“When you have Dixie and T.K. and J.J. and Palou, the defending champion, I think it’s easy that the focus will be on them for sure,” Ericsson said.
“Maybe after today it will change a bit. I felt strong all month. I was up there on every session, we were fast. We showed today that we could also pull it off.”
Palou got caught by the timing of the second caution, had to stop for fuel when the pits were closed and ended up at the tail of the field. So not only were his chances to win all but wiped out, he also could no longer help Dixon.
Johnson was never competitive. Kanaan spent much of the day in the top five but wasn’t the guy to beat.
And Dixon dominated right up to his final pit stop, when he locked up his rear tires and got caught for speeding. The rare mistake put him in the back with 25 laps to go.
The team’s most under-the-radar driver – a 31-year-old who had spent five years as a Formula One back-marker – had the best day.
That’s the thing about an operation of Ganassi’s size. One driver’s good day can overshadow the others’ bad ones.
“This is the definition of teamwork, is what the past two weeks have been here,” said Mike O’Gara, Ericsson’s race strategist. “We work together to get the cars ready. We work together in qualifying. We work together in the race.
“What matters is that one of Chip’s cars won.”
Ericsson moved to IndyCar in 2019, joined Ganassi in 2020, won twice last year, and with his biggest victory “by a million miles” he became the second Swedish driver to win the 500, following Kenny Brack in 1999.
Ironically, Johnson nearly cost Ericsson the race when he crashed in the second turn with six laps to go.
‘CERTAINLY LEARNED A LOT’: Johnson unsatisfied with Indy 500 finish
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IndyCar called for a red flag to set up a two-lap at-speed finish, Ericsson’s three-second lead was gone, Pato O’Ward was on his gearbox and Kanaan, an aggressive master of restarts, was third with nothing to lose.
But Ericsson kept his challengers in those spots, holding O’Ward to his outside on the restart and then using every inch of asphalt weaving to minimize the draft they could catch off his car. Sage Karam crashed on the final lap and Ericsson took the checkered and yellow flags together.
“One of the cool things being part of Chip Ganassi Racing is the atmosphere we have within the drivers,” Ericsson said. “I know I’ve never experienced that before, that you have a team with drivers that are extremely talented and good but also work together as a team.
“I think that’s why we’ve been so strong the last year and this year. It’s because it is a team effort and we help each other and we push for each other. … They all came up to me after the race, congratulated me. Yeah, I’m very proud to be part of that lineup of drivers.”
Part of a true team.