Ganassi confirms Indy 500 'super team'

Chip Ganassi, the defending winning team owner from last year's Indianapolis 500, has confirmed his version of a super team for this year's race.

Ganassi confirms Indy 500 'super team'

As predicted on Autosport.com, Tony Stewart, a former Indy Racing League champion and a current NASCAR Winston Cup star, and Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, will drive Ganassi's two entries in the May 27 Indy 500.

The two drivers replace Ganassi's regular CART duo of Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian - two rookie drivers that Ganassi believed needed a bit more oval experience before challenging the most famous oval in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"When we originally put our plans together to run in the Indianapolis 500, Bruno and Nicolas were our drivers," Ganassi said. "Our thinking is the experience they would have gained at the beginning of the season would have been sufficient when we arrived here at Indianapolis. With the cancellation of the race at Brazil and the cancellation at Texas, we felt it was necessary to re-evaluate our plan if we were going to be in the best position to come back here and win this race.

"We have decided to bring two veteran drivers back into the race and these two drivers know their way around this place. I've never been a big political animal. If you are going to be in politics, go to Washington. If you are going to be in racing, you belong in Indianapolis. It makes me feel pretty nice to see some more CART teams over it. We're not done yet. The job isn't finished."

Stewart won Saturday night's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway for his 10th career Winston Cup win in just a little over two seasons. Prior to that, he started on the pole at the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 after the death of his teammate, Scott Brayton. Stewart had been the second-fastest qualifier for that race.

Stewart finished fifth at Indy in 1997 and was the IRL champion that year. He last raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1999, his rookie season in NASCAR Winston Cup.

"Tony knows how to win a race and certainly knows his way around this place," Ganassi said. "This decision was not made because Bruno or Nicolas did not do something right or they are unable to win this race. In rookie orientation, Bruno set a quick time and Nicolas adapted quickly as well.

"Our team has proven that we can train rookie drivers in the past and it's our goal to set up drivers to succeed. Right now, we need them to focus on the CART series because our most important goal there is to win the championship."

Vasser returned to Indy last year for the first time since 1995 and finished seventh in a race won by his then-Ganassi team mate, Juan Pablo Montoya.

"When we were re-evaluating our program, Jimmy was the first guy who came to mind," Ganassi said. "He can climb in these cars today and get the most out of it by this afternoon. He is familiar with our program, our structure, our personnel and he understands our goal, which is to win this race."

Stewart will attempt to run in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina on the same day. He did that in 1999, finishing ninth at Indianapolis and fourth that night at Charlotte.

"It was pretty tough to do the double, I was exhausted that night," Stewart recalled. "We have learned from that and I've got a physical trainer who will make sure I'm training properly. We're going to do everything we can from what we learned in 1999. We are making sure we don't make those same mistakes this year.

"It's a great combination," Stewart continued. "I didn't really decide I wasn't coming to Indy this year, but I didn't really have anybody call. On our first off-weekend, I got a call from Andy Graves, the general manager for Chip's Winston Cup team. He asked if I wanted to go back to Indy this year. That was literally three weeks ago and it's impressive to see how quick and organised this has become. It's been very fun to watch. We didn't want to just come back to Indy and race. We want to come back to win and do something extra with it."

Vasser won the 1996 CART title for Ganassi and remained on the team until the two parted ways at the end of last season. He currently drives for Patrick Racing in CART. He started his first race in 1992 and this will be his sixth appearance.

"To look at the team mates I've driven for over the years is a list of some of the greatest race car drivers that still walk the planet," Vasser said. "It seems funny to come back in the red Target uniform after what has gone on. I'm stepping into one of the cars that have the best chance to win this race. I would very badly like to win the Indianapolis 500 and it's as simple as that."

Ganassi had to get permission from Stewart's Winston Cup team owner, Joe Gibbs, and Vasser's CART team owner, Pat Patrick, along with a financial settlement for using the two drivers in the biggest race in the world. Julian Robertson will serve as Vasser's engineer and Bill Pappas will work with Stewart.

The team will run G-Force/Oldsmobile Auroras in the race.

After running both races in 1999, Stewart said he wasn't going to try that again. Two years later, he's back, willing to run 1100 miles in one day.

"I knew it had to be under the right circumstances with the right team," Stewart said. "This was the perfect opportunity. I know that I have the best equipment out there. We have the best crew members and the right variables to do the job properly."

Junqueira and Minassian admitted disappointment at not running at Indy this year, but said it sets them up for better success in the coming seasons.

"We will be better prepared to come next year," Junqueira said. "I knew before we had a lot of speed at some points of the races, but as far as knowing oval racing, I just learned it yesterday in Nazareth. Maybe I can come here next year and win this race.

"If we had run at Texas, it would have been 600 kilometers, almost 400 miles and that would have helped here."

Minassian said, "It's always disappointing when you think you are going to do something and then not do it. But I understand Chip has very good reason to change the lineup for this year. The two drivers have the experience and are winners. I knew this was going to happen a few days ago."

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