Multifaceted racing team owner Chip Ganassi and his Izod IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti were the stars of the 40th annual All-America Team Banquet staged by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA).
AP Photo/Terry RennaDario Franchitti, left, and team owner Chip Ganassi wrapped up the 2009 IndyCar Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Hosted by John and Ashley Force at John Force Racing's spectacular new facility in Brownsburg, Ind., on Jan. 16, the AARWBA banquet brought together several hundred dignitaries from all forms of auto racing. Franchitti won the Jerry Titus Memorial Award, presented by AARWBA to the year's top driver, for the second time in his career.
Yet it was team boss Ganassi who stole the show with a poignant speech about his 47-year love affair with auto racing. Ganassi made a passionate plea for the leaders of the sport to understand that racing's survival in the future depends upon whether it can stay relevant in dramatically changing times for the auto industry. To do so, he said, racing must make a priority of focusing on technical innovation by embracing new, cutting-edge technology -- even if that means upsetting some traditional elements of the sport.
In his speech, Ganassi confirmed that engineer Ben Bowlby (a member of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar Series team) has spearheaded research and development of the so-called Delta Wing car that has been proposed as an alternate blueprint for the Indy car of the future. But he was quick to refute the notion that the Ganassi organization claims ownership of the concept, and he also stated that even if the basic blueprint for the radical new car is approved, traditional chassis suppliers including Dallara could still be involved in a manufacturing and distribution capacity.
"Will it work? Will it go fast?" queried Ganassi. "I'm sorry to say I'm not going to announce it here tonight, but next month it's going to debut at a major auto show" -- likely the Chicago Auto Show, scheduled for Feb. 12-21 -- "and I'm confident it's going to achieve those trends and will have the same performance as the current car.
"It's a big step forward in meeting this modern-day challenge of achieving the same performance with far greater efficiency. And if we're going to survive in this industry, that's what we need to have -- greater efficiency with the same performance and the same speed. And that same feeling when you're sitting and watching in Turn 1 at Indianapolis."
Ganassi insisted that the status quo is no longer sufficient for racing to keep fans, sponsors and manufacturers involved and invested in the sport -- whether in NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars or even Formula One.
"We in the racing industry need to be bold in meeting and demonstrating tomorrow's technology and innovations, showcasing what can be achieved as we embark on a new era of efficiency," he said. "In order to keep the sport of auto racing healthy, it's going to take our collective efforts."
Franchitti earned the Ganassi team's second consecutive IndyCar Series championship in 2009 and third overall. TCGR also claimed four consecutive CART-sanctioned Indy car titles from 1996 to 1999 with drivers Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Dario won his first Titus Award in 2007, when he won the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship while driving for the team now known as Andretti Autosport.
"I love being a part of the Target team, being around like-minded people," said the Scotsman. "I'm going to keep doing it as long as I enjoy it and as long as I'm competitive. I think the two are quite linked, actually."
As a keen enthusiast for all forms of motor racing, Franchitti took delight in touring Force's 300,000-square-foot facility, which incorporates the Eric Medlen Project -- a research foundation sponsored by Ford Racing dedicated to improving safety in drag racing and other forms of motorsports. Medlen was killed testing a JFR Funny Car in March 2007 at Gainesville Raceway.
"I got to meet John Force -- how cool is that?" exclaimed Franchitti. "He's like Jackie Stewart in cowboy boots!
"That's the good news," he added. "The bad news for Chip is that [Force] offered to give me a go in one of his cars!"