TCGR takes a second consecutive CART
title, courtesy of five-time race winner
Alex Zanardi. Defending champ Jimmy
Vasser finishes third overall.
AN ENDURING SUCCESS STORY
Jimmy Vasser earns
TCGR its first CART
Alex Zanardi is third
in the final points.
On his TCGR debut, Michael Andretti delivers the team’s first
race victory, leading from lights to flag in the CART season
opener in Surfers Paradise, Australia. Andretti wins again on
the streets of Toronto and finishes fourth in the final points.
TCGR gave Reynard a debut CART win with its 94I (BELOW) and
would take four CART titles with Reynard-built cars (1996-’ 99).
When Chip switched to Honda and
Firestone, suddenly he had The
Package; I won four of the first six
races in ’ 96, and that fast start was
what my championship was built on.
I won a few races after my title year,
but not as many as my teammates.
Once Zanardi was on a roll, I got
pummelled for two-and-a-half years,
and when he went off to F1, I thought,
“Thank God; I’m never gonna have
another teammate like that…” Then
Chip hired some snot-nosed
Colombian who was probably even
faster! Tough few years there…
Chip was OK through my difficult
times, but when Juan left for F1,
I was let go at the same time and
we were replaced by rookies, which
didn’t work out. One day I remember
Chip growled to me: “I really hate to
admit this, but I should have kept you
and just brought in one rookie…”
Vasser had ups and downs, but Chip
was loyal to his first champion and he’s
TCGR’s second longest-serving driver.
Scored Ganassi’s first Indy car title
in ’ 96. Took nine wins and 16 other
podiums in six years at TCGR.
THE FIRST CHAMPION
or we’re not going to win. So if we do win,
everyone deserves the credit.”
Dixon, of course, has only seen TCGR in
its current form, long after it became a
title-winning machine, but there were
some inevitable early struggles. Yet one of
those was emphatically not sponsorship:
Chip convinced a non-racing brand that
what was effectively a start-up team had
the potential to be a winner. It’s probably
too complicated to explain the deal that
followed Ganassi’s decision to set up his
own team after successful years at
Patrick Racing, but the result was that his
car for 1990 was already fully funded…
“So I was able to go to Target and offer
branding on our car for free,” explains
Ganassi, “but I told them I’d need to know
by June 1 whether they were in for
another year. Well, they came to the
Indianapolis 500, loved it, and signed up.”
Over TCGR’s first three seasons,
ex-Formula 1 racer Eddie Cheever scored
some podiums and finished each year in the
top 10 in final points. But Chip was aware
his team needed to make the next step.
“Cheever was a road racer, primarily,” he
says, “and we needed someone good on
ovals, too. We got Arie Luyendyk, and at Indy
in ’ 93 we took pole and finished second. But
the other thing holding us back was running
one car: you can’t make real progress with
only one set of data coming in.
“So when we hired Michael Andretti, we
also hired Mauricio Gugelmin. And bang!
Michael won right out of the box, despite
(TOP) Jimmy Vasser
and Chip Ganassi
celebrate a hard-won
1996 CART title.
(LEFT) Alex Zanardi
after winning his first
and TCGR’s second
crown in ’ 97.