RETURN OF THE SILVER ARROWS
Sauber team boss Max Welti wasn’t very
happy with his new American driver for the
1987 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’d just been
sent out for his first laps of the Circuit de la
Sarthe at the wheel of one of the pair of
Mercedes-engined C9s at the Le Mans Test
Day, but he appeared to be willfully ignoring
instructions by staying out on track.
The driver was a young Chip Ganassi,
preparing for what would turn out to be his
only participation in the race. But willfully
ignoring instructions? He begs to disagree.
“I was told to go out and do three laps,”
recalls Ganassi. “Three laps to me meant
three flying laps, but for the team it meant
an out lap, one flying lap and an in lap. Max
was pissed with me when I finally came in.”
Welti doesn’t disagree: “I really gave him
a hard time over that. I told him, ‘When I
say do three laps, I mean three laps and we
even showed you the pit board to come
in.’ He neglected to obey the board...”
Ganassi, who shared the No. 62 C9
with Johnny Dumfries and Mike
Thackwell, had been brought into the
Sauber lineup because the team wanted
an American driver at a time when it
was pushing for Mercedes to play a
more active role in its Group C program.
“We decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea
to have an American driver – we thought
it would be good marketing for Mercedes,”
says Welti. “At the time, we were doing
everything to convince them we were the
guys to go with, because [Hans-Werner]
Aufrecht was trying to persuade them to
go with AMG in whatever they did.”
Ganassi, who’d made the last of his five
Indy 500 starts the previous year, knew his
way around a sports car. And there was a
European link: he’d notched up a couple of
IMSA entries with British constructor Spice
Engineering at the end of 1986, including a
class win in Camel Lights at Watkins Glen.
Ganassi’s Le Mans debut in what turned
out to be his swansong race as a driver was
short lived. The C9’s gearbox broke 11
minutes after he took over from Dumfries.
He would be back, of course, although it
would be almost three decades before his
eponymous team gave Ford a comeback
win at La Sarthe with its new GT in 2016.
(MAIN) The No. 62 Sauber-Mercedes C9
completed just 37 laps of the 1987 24 Hours of
Le Mans, but it did give Chip Ganassi his one
and only start as a driver in the French classic
– an experience that lasted all of 11 minutes...
Ganassi’s driving career included five Indy
starts,1982-’ 86, finishing eighth in ’ 83.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA’s No. 68 GT
won the GTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2016
“HE NEGLECTED TO OBEY THE BOARD...”
Chip Ganassi’s only Le Mans as a driver came with Sauber in 1987 – but didn’t start on the best of footings...