FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Car race giant Chip Ganassi flies Citation X and Learjet 35 to attend worldwide motor events
Bizjets solve logistical problem of being hands-on at more than 50 championship races annually.
Fastest jet around
Line Captain Tom Badstibner is rated in the Cessna Citation X.
Ganassi bought his Citation X because, frankly, it's the fastest civilian airplane around and had longer range than the Lear 45, which meant he could go coast to coast without a fuel stop.
Always performance focused, Ganassi added winglets to the Citation X as soon as he could at the Citation Service Center ICT (Mid-Continent, Wichita KS) for the extra boost in range, climb and block speed. Before the winglets were added, Thomas had doubts about their value.
"When they first told me about the winglets, I said, 'I'll have to experience it to believe it.'" Thomas says. "Now the airplane climbs right to altitude as advertised. That was the big thing for me, because prior to the winglets I personally didn't fly the airplane above FL390 or 400.
But with the winglets, it'll climb straight to 43,000 ft with no problem at all. It also adds to the stability of the airplane on landings. Naturally, the higher you fly the more fuel you save—and we try to fly as high as feasible for the trip. So there is a fuel savings."
Interestingly, racing and flying have an undeniable aerodynamics link.
"It's a marriage of the appreciation of performance. The envelopes are so similar. When you're talking about wings and Reynolds numbers, they all correlate," Ganassi says.
"These Indy cars, stock cars and sports cars are all just a wing between the bumpers.
It's how you manage the angle of attack of that wing to get its best performance. All the track knows is that you have these 4 little patches of rubber that are touching it. At the end of the day, who manages those 4 patches of rubber the best is going to win the race."
Versed in CFD
Ganassi, who is conversant with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), owns his own full-size wind tunnel in Pennsylvania to put car designs through their paces. He also uses scale model tunnels in Indiana and North Carolina. He observes, "Let's just say that we employ a healthy number of aerodynamicists, and we do quite a bit of aerodynamic testing."
Line Captain Richard Constantine is SIC in the Citation X.
Before getting the Citation X, Thomas had spent most of his 12,000 hrs TT in Learjets. He went to the University of Central Texas for his bachelor of science in aviation and learned to fly in Cessna 152s.
He has been in Pittsburgh for his entire flying career with 3 organizations, including charter companies Corporate Jets and ExcelAire, before the Ganassi flight department.
Pilot transition to the Citation X went smoothly. Thomas was already familiar with the Honeywell Primus 1000 in the Learjet, so moving to the X's Primus 2000 EFIS avionics suite was easy. "The X is a more stable airplane and a lot easier to fly than the 30 series or 20 series, which I call real pilot airplanes," he says.
Thomas is typed in the Citation X, Learjet 24, 25, 35, 45 and 55 and has an ATP. Line Captain Badstibner is rated in the Citation X and Line Captain Constantine is SIC in the Citation X. Both line captains also have their ATPs.
Badstibner, who previously flew the Citation X for another company, joined Ganassi immediately after the Citation was bought.
Thomas met Constantine—also a recent hire—in the early 1990s and they flew King Airs together. With at least 1 race and sometimes a couple or more every weekend of the season, the flightcrews rotate when they can to reduce the number of weekends away from home.
|Many racing team owners and drivers use business aviation to meet their frantic travel schedules, but Chip Ganassi is the only team owner to run in all 3 of the major racing series, so his travel requirements are more strenuous. He and his company have to keep up with a dizzying array of separate rules and regulations for each of the racing circuits.
Izod IndyCars Series
Indy cars run the fastest of any of the competitive racing events, at speeds over 220 mph. The series features open-wheel auto racing and derives its name from its connection to the Indianapolis 500, a 500-mile race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Races are run on oval tracks, road courses and street courses.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
NASCAR racers drive essentially stock cars with engines powerful enough to reach speeds over 200 mph. Car bodies and chassis are regulated to ensure parity and most races are run on oval tracks with 2 road courses.
Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
All these races are run by sports car prototypes and grand touring-style cars on both road and street courses at speeds nearing 200 mph.
But Ganassi himself is somewhere every weekend during the season. The Citation X is in the air about 400 hrs annually, usually with 1 or 2 passengers, but sometimes more.
Most of Ganassi's drivers also have their own airplanes or, like team driver and IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon, own a fraction of an airplane, in his case with CitationShares.
The frantic pace means the team and Ganassi put a lot of pressure on the Citation X to perform. Thomas says, "The X is very reliable. We haven't had any major issues since we got it."
With a small staff, the flight scheduling function falls on Thomas's shoulders. "Chip will let his executive assistant know where he wants to go and she'll convey that to me, or I'll speak with him directly. He's pretty flexible," Thomas says.
"We know that we're going to be gone for the race weekends. A typical race weekend is Thursday through Sunday, so he may decide to leave on Thursday. Then again, he may decide to leave on Friday or Saturday, or even Sunday. But we know for sure there is a race on the weekend, and 9 chances out of 10 we're going to be there."
Ganassi himself began his career professionally driving racecars while he was pursuing his degree in finance at Duquesne University. This was after a youth spent fascinated with anything that had a motor on it—go-karts, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles.
One of his first professional races was the iconic Indy 500.
"In 1982, I was classed as rookie and I finished 15th. Ten days out of college and I had $65,000 in the bank." His racing career was cut short in 1984 when a tire was cut on the track. His car went airborne and came down on the guardrail top first, disintegrating in midair. Ganassi's injuries were severe and eventually he entered the ranks of racing team ownership.
After all of his competitive success as a race team owner, Ganassi was asked if he misses driving competitively. "I'd have been perfectly happy being a good driver," he says—but today he lets his champion-caliber drivers do the driving.
And he is also happy to let the professional pilots in his flight department do the flying. "I don't fly the jet, but I'm a great passenger." Chief Pilot Thomas agrees.
Jim Gregory was formerly head of public relations for Learjet and Raytheon Aircraft. Today his James Gregory Consultancy provides aviation marketing and public relations counsel.
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