Exactly one year ago today, the cover came off one of the biggest announcements in Red Bull Global Rallycross history: the storied Chip Ganassi Racing would be joining the series with a pair of M-Sport built Ford Fiesta STs. Behind the wheel, drivers Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan (plus Jeff Ward for selected events) would be taking on an ever-strengthening Supercar field for the 2015 title.
Year one was a learning process, as it is for any new race team in a given series, but one thing is for certain: it’ll be a shock if the Ganassi name isn’t atop the Red Bull GRC podium sometime in 2016.
“Literally every single time we’ve been on the racetrack we’ve learned something,” Arpin said of his team’s first season competing in Supercar. “(And) between races, when there’ s only one week or two weeks off, these guys are working their tails off doing everything in their power just to get the car back to the racetrack as fast as possible. We’re definitely going to be right in the middle of (the championship fight) all year long in 2016.”
Arpin carried the torch for CGR as its lone full-time driver in 2015, entering his third full season and first with the new squad on an absolute tear. Right out of the gate, he won a heat and semifinal in the opener in Fort Lauderdale and grabbed a podium finish in Daytona. Between those two races, he also gave the team its first medal in the X Games Austin exhibition event, finishing second to Scott Speed.
Though he only finished sixth in points, 2015 was by far Arpin’s best season yet as a rallycross driver. His eight top fives were actually on par with the number that Speed posted on the way to the championship, and his five heat and semifinal victories were a career best.
Deegan, meanwhile, missed four of the 12 championship rounds, but still took a runner-up finish in Los Angeles to extend his streak as one of only two drivers to podium in every Red Bull GRC season. Despite the limited program, his three heat wins and main event appearances in every start enabled him to put both Ganassi teams in the top 10 of the championship standings.
“I couldn’t be with a better team to win races,” the 2012 Supercar runner-up explained before the start of the season. “Their experience with winning—let’s be honest, they have one of the best race shops in America, and now we have access to their machines and their technology. The guys have always been great over there—they have great attitudes and personalities, and they’re guys that are going to be fun to hang out with. I think it’s a good combination of all the right things.”
In Deegan’s place, Ward rejoined the Ganassi squad for the first time since running IndyCar for the team more than a decade earlier. He raced in Daytona and Washington DC, shocking the establishment with three heat wins. In the second Daytona race, he was one of the drivers to beat, winning the pole and nearly taking a podium finish.
“I love coming to tracks that nobody has driven, because everybody has to learn it at the same time,” Ward admitted. “It’s the same thing I did in supermoto—whether it’s built in a parking lot or a downtown street, you have to go find the lines, get up to pace quickly, and make your changes. It’s the same thing here. You have to find your line, and you can’t change anything until you’ve got the track down, and that happens really quick.”