Golden Oldies For Ganassi
May 13, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Team owner Chip Ganassi decided that it would take veteran drivers to give him a chance to defend last year’s Indy 500 championship. So rather than sending his inexperienced rookie CART duo of Bruno Janquiera and Nicolas Manaissan to Indy, Ganassi brought in Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser to pilot his cars.
The pair have quickly become the highest-profile teammates in the garage and solid contenders to win.
Stewart claimed the seventh starting position in Saturday's time trials while Vasser qualified twelfth.
"We have all the pieces in place to give Team Target a great shot at another title, but as anyone’s who’s raced here before can tell you, it takes more than that,” said Ganassi, a five-time Indy 500 competitor. “The Indy 500 is about patience, endurance and luck. We have the experience and the talent, so we’ll just have to wait until the checkered flag waves to see if we have what it takes to do it again.”
Despite vowing “I’ll never do that again” after competing in both the 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 1999, Stewart will once again pull double duty this year. Stewart was given clearance by his Winston Cup team owner Joe Gibbs to attempt the daunting task and is anxious for the opportunity.
“Making the decision to do this was about winning, not just competing in both races,” said Stewart, the ’97 IRL champion who has four career Indianapolis 500 starts. “Our NASCAR program is top notch and the chance to come to Indy with a similar operation like Chip’s was the only way I would even consider this.”
After starting 24th in the ’99 Indy classic, Stewart drove a Tri-Star Motorsports Dallara/Auruora home to a ninth-pace finish. He immediately jumped on a airplane to Charlotte and, despite starting last for missing the driver’s meeting, completed the day with an impressive fourth.
“It was, I guess looking back on it, a successful day,” Stewart remembered. “The logistics and all of getting to one track to another thrown into the mix and the length of the day and all...I think we made a pretty good showing. But I really think we have a chance to improve on it this year.”
Vasser is also confident about his chances in 2001, although his day will only be half as long as his teammate. After a four-year absence from the Brickyard, the California native will race in second straight Indy 500, his sixth appearance in the race.
“After spending six years with this team, nothing surprises me,” said Vasser, who was the ’96 CART champion with Ganassi Racing. “They are consistent, experienced and want to win every race. I have the same attitude, and am entering the race with just one goal win the Indy 500.”
It's that combination of confidence, experience and superior equipment which could be the formula to bring Ganassi back to victory lane.