Interview with Darren Manning

Darren Manning started the 2005 IRL season strongly. In the first four races he finished in the top ten and was as high as fifth in the championship after Phoenix

Interview with Darren Manning

But since the Indy 500 it has gone downhill.

Manning, who finished 11th in the championship last season, has been fired by Chip Ganassi Racing. The news comes despite Manning ranking being higher in the current championship standings than either of his highly regarded teammates, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe.

Autosport-Atlas asked the 29 year-old what happened with Ganassi, why had he been fired and what his plans are now.

Q. Can you explain what has happened in the last 24 hours?

Darren Manning: "I got a call on Tuesday from [Team director] Mike Hull to come and see him, because he had something to talk to me about. I went to see him and he told me the news that Chip Ganassi wasn't going to take up my contract for 2006. He had spoken to Chip 30 minutes before he spoke to me, and that if he wasn't going to take up his option on me for the next year it was best not continue with me for the rest of this season.

"That was basically it. It was short and sweet and when a decision has been made like that there's not a lot you can do about it, to be honest.

"I wasn't really given any reason, but I can probably make up my own. There's probably hundreds of different reasons for making the decision and unfortunately I'll never know. There only be a couple of people in this world that will ever know and one of those will be Chip.

"He has his reasons and I respects that, and I'll just have to move on with my career."

Q. Isn't this an odd decision considering you've scored more points that either of your teammates this season?

DM: "I don't want to see anybody fired. All three of us are top-level drivers and everybody knows that - we wouldn't have been hired by Chip in the first place if that had happened. So I don't know. I don't think it was a performance thing. But you never really know. I don't want to speculate really. My performance over the last few races hasn't been there.

Q. Did you have any warning? Richmond was a bad race for the team when all three of you crashed out, but did this come as a surprise to you?

DM: "Yes, absolutely. Obviously Richmond was Richmond, and we all went out. We had a conversation with Chip on how things have got to improve and that he can't afford to keep pulling us out of the wall, and rebuilding the cars for us. And the performance level wasn't there.

Q. At Milwaukee last weekend, Ryan crashed in qualifying and then you and Scott struggled. What happened at Milwaukee and did that lead to this decision?

DM: "I retired because of the handling. Unfortunately, it did all stem from us deciding to take it easy after Ryan's crash. Chip spoke to both teams before we ran and gave us some stern words, and that determined the rest of the weekend.

"If you back off a bit on a short oval like Milwaukee and you have to adjust the set-ups accordingly. We didn't have time to do that. If you have an oversteering moment for example, it doesn't make you go faster which you really should do. It makes you back off and it gets worse and worse.

"You go slower and slower and the cars don't really like it. It spirals downhill, and we couldn't adjust the set up accordingly. And that meant by the race Scott and I were way off the pace.

"Scott obviously decided to continue and didn't have as big a handling problem as me, but he still finished six laps down. And that's not acceptable.

"The team has all the resources and mechanics and we're not that bad. We haven't been getting the consistent performance that we should be doing with the people that we have got. They needed to make a change somewhere and that's what has happened."

Q. "So this is this down to performance rather than money?

DM: "I don't think I'll ever know. It could well be money and it has been intimated to all drivers that we couldn't afford to keep crashing like we've been doing. I've had a couple of crashes, Ryan has had a lot and Scott has had a couple. But altogether, it can't be cheap.

"Unfortunately for a driver, you are the one who gets all the glory, and we try and give us much as we can to other drivers but it's our faces on the front of the magazines and lifting the trophy. So the buck stops with us. Unfortunately Chip needed to make changes and I was in the wrong place in the wrong time, and I don't know if I was in the weakest position of the three drivers - but obviously I was for whatever reason."

Q. You are not being replaced for this weekend's round at Michigan. It seems to me then this is something wider than a Darren Manning problem.

DM: "I don't know. Maybe not for this weekend but maybe later on. Like you say, I was the top of the three Ganassi drivers but it didn't work out like I was hoping it to. It's not that I'm a bad driver, or the engineer or the team are bad. It is just in the last couple of years the situation just hasn't arisen to give me the results.

Q. At the start of the year you had some strong finishes and you were looking up there in the championship hunt.

DM: "I think that the wheels kind of fell of the wagon. It was a tough one and we were just getting back in the saddle after a couple of shaky results and I actually said, not begging for my job, but I said that this next race would have been a huge bounce-back race for us after a couple of bad results.

"There is a new update for Michigan on the engine side of things. Our set ups are very good round there and I had a good race last year and things were kind of turning round. I had a good meeting with my engineers on Monday to try and sort things out and look at how to qualify and how to race there.

"It was a hasty decision. I don't know why he couldn't have given me one more race. But it's irrelevant now."

Q. It's one thing for them not to take up an option on your contract for 2006 and keep you for the rest of the season, but it's another to drop you immediately in the middle of a season.

DM: "Exactly. I don't know. It is a strange one. I'm getting that from a lot of people. Chip has made decisions like this in the past and he's got to do what he thinks is best. He's got the whole picture in his head financially and his hand was probably forced to make a change and I was that change."

Q. I know it is early to be thinking about it, but where do you go from here? What about 2006?

DM: "Well, I have to be thinking about it. I have thought about it and there is no holding me back. I don't have to go one way or another, other than just talk to people. I haven't become a terrible driver overnight. Chip signed me for a reason, I was a Formula One test driver for a reason and I'm still around racing for a reason. People aren't going to think that and I'm sure there are opportunities out there for me.

"I'm going to be looking at IRL and Champ Car primarily because like I've always said this is where I want to be racing in US open wheel racing.

"It's got to be a top-level drive. That's why I came to Ganassi because I thought they were going to give me an opportunity to win. Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.

"No-one has given me a call yet, but it's mid-season so there is nothing I can really do for the rest of this year. I'm not desperate for the rest of this season. I want to be in chance to win races for next year. All the teams will pretty much know who I am. I've made a name for myself on the American scene."

"I can promise them that it will be competitive. I don't need to do anything on a low level anymore. I don't need to get a ride for a rides sake. I'm working towards a top-level drive in IRL or Champ Car for '06 or something on the world scene. The phone will start ringing today I guess, and my manager will start ringing round.

"Ganassi are not standing in my way. I've got to see out my contract but they are letting me look around. And if something comes up we'll have to talk to them."

Q. If something high-level did come along they would let you take it?

DM: "Yes, I think so. We would obviously have to negotiate the financial side of things but that's very minor in comparison."

Q. If you're still under contract to Ganassi can you see a situation where they have a change of heart and maybe you could come back?

DM: "No, that would be very wrong for Chip. I've just got to wave goodbye to my Ganassi endeavours and move on. Somebody will probably fill that seat and if they don't I was told there was a possibility that they will still only run two cars next year."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Pippa Mann
Author Tim Redmayne
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