12-15 March, 2014, Sebring, Florida, USAChip Ganassi© 2014, Michael L. LevittLAT Photo USA for IMSA

Return of the Champions

By David Phillips

They’re back.

After a one-season absence, Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR), together this time with Cadillac Racing, is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021. It figures to be a potent partnership: Between them, CGR and Cadillac count a collective nine IMSA championships and more than 75 IMSA wins, including a dozen overall and class victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

It’s not as if CGR wanted to watch IMSA from afar this season. It’s just that Ford brought the proverbial curtain down on its Ford GT program – and a partnership with CGR that produced a baker’s dozen of WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class wins, not to mention an historic class win in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans – at the conclusion of the 2019 season. With no clear path forward, CGR opted to sit out the past season with an eye on 2021 and beyond.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to continue with our IMSA program in 2020," says Ganassi, "but we kept a lot of the people employed. Some of those people will come back to the sports car racing program, we’ll shift some others from our IndyCar and NASCAR programs, and we’ll add some new people, I’m sure.

"I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sports car racing," he continues. "I did some of it when I was starting out, and I’ve always enjoyed the Rolex 24, Sebring and we race at a lot of tracks that we have some knowledge about. So that helps. And we had some success in this series over the years. We want to go back to that. We feel we have something to offer and we want to measure ourselves against teams that are there all the time. And I’m sure they want to measure themselves against us, so it works well."

The opportunity to return to their roots, competing for overall wins in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, was certainly attractive; all the more so doing it in collaboration with Cadillac.

"Cadillac has enjoyed great success in IMSA themselves," says Ganassi. "So it’s an honor to be chosen to represent them in IMSA. When the opportunity came along, we didn’t think about it too long before we said yes. I’m really, really excited to get back in IMSA with a leading manufacturer."

The partnership with Cadillac is in keeping with CGR’s modus operandi of teaming with different, indeed rival, manufacturers across multiple racing platforms. Next year, CGR will defend its 13th IndyCar championship using Honda engines, field a pair of Chevrolet Camaros in the NASCAR Cup Series and, of course, campaign a Cadillac DPi in the WeatherTech Championship.

"It’s nice to be involved with IndyCars, IMSA and NASCAR," Ganassi says. "You have the opportunity to see and learn about the best practices in each series, each form of racing if you will. You take that on board and integrate those practices into other areas of the team, and the organization grows and becomes stronger in the process. So I think we’re very fortunate in this market, in this economy, to be experiencing this little growth spurt."

It’s a growth spurt that, along with the Whelen Engineering/Action Express Racing and JDC-Miller Motorsports teams, will see CGR team with Cadillac preparing for the upcoming 2021 WeatherTech Championship. And to be sure, CGR is gunning to win races and championships frequently over the next couple of years. But with the new LMDh prototype coming online in 2023, Ganassi also has his eyes on the future.

"We recognize and take pride in what we’ve accomplished," says Ganassi. "But in racing your attention has to be focused on what’s ahead rather than what’s in the past. I think the hybrid technology is an example of that."

Case in point, in the coming year CGR will also enter the brave new world of Extreme E, the groundbreaking race series that will see electric SUVs competing in extreme environments around the world which have already been affected by climate and environmental issues. The five-race schedule is designed to highlight the impact of climate change and human interference in some of the world’s most remote locations, and to promote the adoption of electric vehicles to help preserve the environment and protect the planet.

"Extreme E is a very different proposition to anything we’ve done before," Ganassi says, "but it’s where I think motor racing is headed in the future. When I started our team in 1990, one of the founding principles I built it on was innovation. I’ve always been passionate about pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and Extreme E checks that box for us in a big way."

With events scheduled for far-flung corners of the world including Greenland, Senegal and Nepal, Extreme E is sure to expand CGR’s international reputation. As well, Ganassi hopes the return to sports car racing will eventually take his team back to a more, er, "conventional" international locale.

"Anytime you go racing, you want to compete against the best teams and the best manufacturers, in the best series, on the best tracks and in the best events," he says. "I think IMSA checks all those boxes. I also think like most people in the U.S. in sports car racing, we’re cautiously optimistic that there will be some sort of path in the future to Le Mans. Again, we had some success there and we’d like to go back. Obviously, Le Mans is a world-class event and we’d love to go back there. If that happens, great. If not, so be it. We’re really happy to be racing sports cars in the United States."

Speaking for IMSA and its fans, the feeling is mutual.