ENGINEERED TO BE THE BEST
By: Dave Lewandowski
Target Chip Ganassi Racing engineer Chris Simmons isn’t one to mess with success. Tinker, yes, as the IZOD IndyCar Series continues to evolve with the introduction of a new chassis and renewal of engine manufacturer competition for the 2012 season. He has one constant: driver Dario Franchitti.
“He makes it pretty easy ... it's kind of like having an extra data acquisition system in the car working with Dario,” said Simmons, who has gotten the most out of the Dallara Automobili car and its driver each of the past three seasons.
Franchitti, who earned his third consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series title in 2011, provided Target Chip Ganassi Racing its fourth in a row and ninth overall in Indy car racing (since 1994, only Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR has more major motorsports titles with 10).
He moved into a tie for second place on the all-time list for most Indy car championships (A.J. Foyt has seven, while Franchitti, Mario Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais have four), and he’s the third in Indy car racing to win at least three in a row (Ted Horn – 1946-48 and Bourdais – 2004-07). Franchitti needs one victory to tie Paul Tracy and Bourdais for seventh (31 wins) on the all-time list.
The foundation for the Simmons-Franchitti association was laid years ago.
“We were lucky because Dario and I did not work directly together but worked alongside each other at Andretti Green Racing, so getting started when he came here (2009) we had a head start,” said Simmons, who raced Indy Lights until a neck injury in 1998 put him on the other side of the pit lane wall. “We kind of knew how each other thought and what each other wanted, and certainly I think our relationship has grown since then.
“I think he trusts me and I trust him. I can tell from his voice, his intonations as much as from what he’s saying, the point he’s trying to get across that really helps get more information when I need it and helps us make the car faster.”
Away from the racetrack, the duo exchanges “a lot of emails and text messages,” according to Simmons, in season and out.
“We usually do an end of season debrief face to face where go through every race and look at good things and bad things, strengths and weaknesses and where we can be better, where we improved from the year before,” Simmons said. “We’re always evaluating each other, and I think that’s one of the impressive things about Dario and Scott that they’re such accomplished drivers but they’re working all the time to make themselves better.
“I think I add something to it, but I have a great team of guys behind me as well.”
Target Chip Ganassi Racing is Honda Performance Development’s anchor team for on-track development of the 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine that will be fueled with E85. Both Franchitti and two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon have been behind the wheel of HPD’s Dallara Automobili chassis that’s also new for 2012 during manufacturer testing this fall. The IZOD IndyCar Series will have manufacturer competition between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.
“We’re certainly very excited to be associated with Honda again,” Simmons said. “We’ve always had a great program, and for us -- as a team -- anytime we can be involved in the testing even though it’s really Honda’s test program at this point we still learn a lot from it.”