Alongside the champion: Inputs develop strategy

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Last of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series championship season of Scott Dixon. Today, race strategist Mike Hull.

The plan was straightforward – win the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – and the execution was flawless. The result was Scott Dixon’s fourth Verizon IndyCar Series championship and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ 11th Indy car title.

Mike Hull, the team’s managing director and race strategist for Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has had a role in each of the championships and the team’s 100 Indy car wins.

For Hull, a philosopher who sees the big picture through detailed-oriented eyes, this one ranks as one of the sweetest if for no other reason than the platform and personnel established in the offseason meshed and strategy developed from information and informed opinion was the knowledgeable guide. Dixon entered the double-points, championship-deciding race in third place in the standings.

Click it: Part 1, engineer Chris Simmons || Part 2, chief mechanic Blair Julian

The race laid out to the advantage of Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Pit stops on Laps 13 and 35 were quick, and Dixon came in for service on Lap 62 as the race leader and regained the lead for good a lap later.

“We wanted it to be a three-stop race, so we worked really hard from the very beginning of the weekend to create a three-stop event for us,” Hull said. “We knew we had to get to (Lap) 61. If we could get to 61, as everybody thinned out on the racetrack with the track position gained throughout the stops, we thought we had a chance to win the race.”

Victory in the 85-lap race proved to be the determining factor as Dixon and sixth-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske tied on points, with the tiebreaker favoring Dixon 3-2 in wins.

“I think what you do as a race team when you deal with strategy is you look at what you have,” Hull continued. “If you know you have a driver and car capable of winning the race, then what you simply do is work for the pit windows that you need to have to achieve something at the front.”

Development of the car and strategy began during an Aug. 13 test on the 2.385-mile road course and was honed during a Promoter Test on Aug. 28.

“We spent half a day with Scott on the racetrack (Aug. 13), and (Aug. 28) we used all day and we virtually wore the tires out trying to understand what we would need,” Hull said. “… we worked on what we call the mechanical balance of the race car to achieve what we achieved.

“It started well before (the race) in terms of having a raceable product.”

Hull, who’s been with the team since 1992, receives proper due from team owner Chip Ganassi.

“You figure out what the rules are, and you go out and try to win races with what the sanctioning body gives you, what the drivers give you, what the engine manufacturers give you, what the tires give you,” Ganassi said. “You've got to take all those sort of inputs and you have to make something of it, and whoever makes the best of that package, whatever it is, is going to be the champion at the end of the year.

“None of the championships are the same because the rules are different, a little different each year. The points systems are different. Technology is different. We've done it with different engine packages, we've done it with different tires, we've done it with different cars and we've done it with different drivers.

“My hat's off to Mike for putting the team together so many times over the years that just takes all these inputs that you have from different constituencies in the sport.”

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