Just as it did for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford brought all four of its Ford GT racers to compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
After fighting through so many hardware struggles at last year’s Rolex 24, Ford brought to bear the same four-team army this year in Daytona as it did to win Le Mans last year. In the end, the teams finished in 10th, seventh, fifth and, most importantly, first place in the IMSA GT Le Mans class.
There’s a lot to be proud of with this win and we hope it’s the start of a great season for our teams.—Raj Nair, Ford
“This is a great win for our GT program,” Raj Nair, executive vice president of Global Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company, said. “It’s a credit to everyone involved, from our Ford team toGanassi,Roush Yates,MultimaticandMichelin. Conditions were very difficult throughout much of the race, but that winning car had no issues at all against some of the best competition in the sport. There’s a lot to be proud of with this win and we hope it’s the start of a great season for our teams.”
Daytona certainly got off to a strong start for the Ford teams, as they GTs qualified in the top three spots. The 66 GT claimed the top spot with a 1:43.473 qualifying lap, while the 67 and 68 GTs fell in line with the second and third qualified spots. The 69 GT qualified sixth.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since last year,” said Joey Hand, who earned the top qualified spot. “Last year here it was the car’s first race and we didn’t know what to expect and we were just trying to turn some laps and make the thing go the distance. We’ve had time with it now, we’ve won a 24-hour race (in the GTE Pro category at the Le Mans 24). We know the car will go the distance and we’ve been able to spend time on performance, making the car quicker. Today we made a small change (between practice and qualifying) and just went for it,and I felt like we had something, but you just never know.”
As they did in Le Mans, the team of Sébastien Bourdais, Joey Handand Dirk Müller took the checkered flag, but it wasn’t without an intense finish to the race. “Dirk just did it in the end,” Sébastien Bourdais said. “It’s always that way in Daytona. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in the 23 ½ hours, everything matters from the last yellow flag.”
Qualifying is one thing, but racing is yet another. Over night the drivers competed in the cold and rain and kept the GTs in the mix. However, it really came down to a gripping final half an hour of the race. Pit stops were key. Leads changed. But, it was the driving of Dirk Müller down the stretch that consummated the win.
“I have to thank my teammates here,” Dirk said. “To follow up to things Chip is always saying in our meetings, hand the car over as you would have it. We’re lucky I don’t have to hand the car over, because there’s a little scratch on the right-side mirror now from my move with the Ferrari, but what a race. Joey said it. I think to sit here is a big honor because we managed to win a very challenging race. I think the whole team a fantastic job.”
The 69 Ford GT driven by Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan finished fifth, while the 68 GT driven by Olivier Pla, Stefan Mücke and Billy Johnson) finished seventh. Unfortunately the 67 GT was down laps at race’s end after an overnight altercation in the famed Bus Stop turn.
“The win made me very uncomfortable to watch. And sweaty,” Joey added. “I told my family at home before I left that I had a good feeling about this race. I really felt like we could win. We worked really well together. That’s what makes a difference. The three of us together, you may not think a German dude, a French guy who has a bunch of IndyCar championships and a guy from California would work together the best, but we do really work well together.”
We came into this race with a lot to prove after last year and it was great to see all four of our GTs run so well.—Dave Pericak, Ford
Yes, just as they did in Le Mans last year, drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais took home another 24-hour endurance race win for the Ford GT.
“It’s a proud day for everyone at Ford,” Dave Pericak, global director,Ford Performance, said. “We came into this race with a lot to prove after last year and it was great to see all four of our GTs run so well. The competition was amazing,and the 66 car guys ran a perfect race. It’s a great way to start 2017,and we couldn’t be more proud of everyone who worked so hard to prepare for this race.”
The Ford GT will return to stateside racing action at the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway from March 15-18.