High praise for Dixon from a tough boss

The Indianapolis 500 - regarded as the greatest spectacle in racing - happens in about 48 hours, and Driven this week caught up with one of the greatest American race car team owners.

We wanted to know if, after more than 160 race wins in goodness knows how many different categories, Floyd "Chip" Ganassi still gets a buzz when one of his drivers takes the chequered flag.

"You're damn right, I still get the same buzz every time we win," boomed Ganassi down the phone. "Just last weekend at the All Star Race [Nascar] Jamie [McMurray] won and there's nothing like winning a million bucks to start the month."

The Pittsburgh native is chief executive of Chip Ganassi Racing, which has successful teams in IndyCar, Nascar and the United SportsCar Championship. He has had a stellar team-owner career since buying into Patrick Racing in 1988 - he formed his own team in 1990 - winning nine IndyCar championships, four Indy 500 races, six Grand-Am Sports Car Series, five 24 Hours at Daytona races and one Daytona 500.


"In motor racing you're only as good as your last race so you've got to keep winning," he said.

"This business rewards continuity and people who have been around for a while. To understand the different nuances of any sport you have to have been around for a long time and I guess we've been around for a while."

The interesting thing about Chip Ganassi Racing is that it wins in single seaters, big V8 tin tops and sports cars. You couldn't get a much wider spread of tarmac racing machines, but Ganassi has a winning secret.

"All a track knows is that there are four patches of rubber touching it. It doesn't know what sort of car is sitting on it and that's all racing is - managing those four patches of rubber touching the asphalt.

"Whoever manages those patches of rubber the best, along with managing the obvious things right, you're 90 per cent of the way to getting a win.

"You've got to get through the first few laps, get the pit stops right, get the tyre changes right, don't bang into things, keep the car straight and you'll be there at the finish."

Ganassi's record as a driver wasn't too shabby either. His race career was affected by a big crash in 1984 during the Michigan 500 - he raced a bit after the crash, but hung up his helmet in 1988.

A year earlier, he co-drove with New Zealander Mike Thackwell in a Sauber C6 Mercedes Benz M137.

"Mike was a great bloke and I was looking forward to racing the 24 Hour, but [Johnny] Dumfries zinged [engine damage] the car before he handed over to me so I only lasted a few laps," said Ganassi.

New Zealander Scott Dixon has been with Ganassi since 2002 and has given the team three IndyCar titles and an Indy 500 win.

Ganassi is known as a hard task-master, so the Kiwi must have something going for him in the 55-year-old's eyes as he's the team's longest serving driver.

"Scott's got everything I want in a driver and he didn't come with any baggage. He's passionate about the sport, he's a student of the sport, he likes learning new things, he works hard and we have the best relationship in the garage.

"I can't think of a better driver I'd rather have at the 500. I know we didn't quite get it right in qualifying, but it's a long race and getting the strategy right will make sure we're in a good spot towards the end."

The ladies and gentlemen on the grid of the Indianapolis 500 will start their engines at 4am on Monday, New Zealand time.