The Legendary Teams Will Go Head-to-Head for the First Time in Sports Car Racing in the New GTP Class
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the last 30 years, Chip Ganassi has earned the right to be called Roger Penske’s biggest rival on the racetrack. But two of American racing’s perennial superteams have never competed head-to-head for overall wins in sports car racing.
Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have been selected by Porsche and General Motors, respectively, to lead high-profile factory efforts in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Hypercar class of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Porsche Penske Motorsport will field a pair of Porsche 963 Hybrids each in the WeatherTech Championship and WEC. Ganassi is entering one Cadillac V-LMDh in each series, with Action Express Racing fielding a second Cadillac in the WeatherTech Championship.
Both legendary teams have impressive records in sports car competition. Penske’s dates to 1966 and includes a total of 94 race wins, the most recent seven coming in the WeatherTech Championship with Acura Team Penske from 2018-20. Ganassi has claimed 63 race wins in IMSA competition since 2003, including five over the past two seasons in conjunction with Cadillac Racing.
Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing were both active in the WeatherTech Championship in 2018 and ’19, but they competed in different classes. While Penske was earning a pair of Daytona Prototype international (DPi) championships in association with Acura from 2018-20, Ganassi was running Ford’s factory effort in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class from 2016-19, highlighted by consecutive class victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2017 and ‘18.
The new GTP class, which will permit cars built to IMSA’s LMDh specifications to directly compete with the WEC-spec Hypercars for overall wins in America and abroad, has created the circumstances for the latest round of the Penske-Ganassi rivalry to take center stage in endurance racing. The 2023 WeatherTech Championship season opens with the Rolex 24 on Jan. 28-29.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president for Penske Automotive Group and vice chairman of Penske Racing.
“I don’t think I’ve anticipated a race like this one for a long time. Kudos to Jim France, the people at IMSA and the people in Europe (FIA and Automobile Club de l’Ouest officials) who worked together to build this tremendous series and this opportunity for sports car racing globally.”
“LMDh is really going to be a fantastic formula going forward,” added Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing. “It’s going to be well subscribed this year, and bigger and bigger by 2025. Hopefully the renaissance of sports car racing is going to be here to stay.”
Both men spoke last week as part of EPARTRADE Race Industry Week’s virtual media sessions.
Czarnecki has been affiliated with the Penske organization since 1970, functioning as one of Roger Penske’s top lieutenants in both the business and racing worlds. He’s blown away by the magnitude of the latest collaboration between Penske and Porsche, who share a competition history dating to 1972.
“When this opportunity presented itself, it was a great honor to be representing Porsche,” Czarnecki remarked. “This is going to be the most technologically advanced car that we, Team Penske, have ever raced. So that creates a whole new sense of challenge, as well as some difficulty. We began testing the Porsche several months ago, and that is ongoing as we prepare for the Rolex 24.
“Really, it’s been a two-year ongoing process,” he added. “We’ve taken some good people from our North Carolina operation and migrated them over to Germany and vice versa, and it’s been a real joint collaboration between the two companies. And remember, we have an extensive business relationship with Porsche on the retail auto side, both in the United States and in Western Europe. They are a significant business partner of ours outside the motorsports realm.”
Hull joined Ganassi in 1992. Since taking over as the top manager in 2001, he led the team to nine IndyCar championships with drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, all while forging the organization’s expansion into sports cars.
Like Penske, Ganassi has been preparing for the LMDh era for the last two years. After taking a one-year hiatus in 2020 when the Ford GTLM program ceased operation, Ganassi fielded a Cadillac DPi in IMSA in 2021 and ‘22 and handled the majority of development and testing for Cadillac’s LMDh challenger over the summer. Ganassi is entering both its cars in the Rolex 24, with the second car then peeling off to compete in the full WEC season. Ganassi and Action Express drivers have logged more than 12,000 miles of testing so far.
Hull is excited about the new hybrid technology being introduced with the LMDh formula.
“Dating back to the invention of the wheel, racing has always been about advancing technology,” he said. “Whatever it is, racing has always followed that form and function. Number two, that’s how we’re funded! So, we are happy to be on the leading edge of developing the product, we’re happy that, in our case, General Motors is helping us race the product, and we’re looking forward to the next step.
“Racing isn’t about accepting change; racing is about forecasting change before everybody else,” Hull added. “I think the direction that it’s going will still provide terrific entertainment, viable racing and the thing all of us enjoy, which is wheel-to-wheel action.”
Rolex 24 activities begin with the Roar Before the Rolex 24, Jan. 20-22 at Daytona International Speedway. Rolex 24 race week runs Jan. 26-29. Tickets for both weeks are available at DaytonaInternationalSpeedway.com.