Ford Chip Ganassi Racing close to a third win in a row at Rolex 24
NO. 67 CAME BACK FROM 5 LAPS DOWN TO FINISH FOURTH AND THE NO. 66 INVOLVED IN AN INCIDENT LATE IN THE RACE FINISHED SEVENTH
As mentioned on a previous post, qualifying for the GTLM class was unbelievably close with the nine cars separated by less than one second.
When the green flag dropped, it was as if qualifying was ongoing with constant battle at the front in the first hours with the lead changing hands.
For Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, things looked well with the no. 67 of drivers Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon as they started in third place. But by the end of the first hour, Dixon came out of the pits on cold tires and slid into the wall causing enough damage that the team headed to the garage for repairs. Later on, Richard Westbrook received a three and a half minutes stop and hold for an improper wave around procedure while under a full course yellow. By half distance, they found themselves five laps down.
The no. 66 of drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastin Bourdais started in sixth place with Hand behind the wheel. It was a hard fought battle out there and with less than 10 hours to the checkered flag, Bourdais had the car in second place.
Not long after, the track was under heavy rain and both Ford GT had a slight offs at the International Horseshoe corner.
Following a period of red flag, caution and green, the cars took to the track and at one of the restart, the no.66 leading at the time got rear ended heavily enough to send the car back to the garage. When it came back on track, it was already several laps down.
“We had a car that was quick enough to win this race, and we got ourselves in a position to win the race at the end, or at least have a good shot at it,” said Hand. “Out front, the rain was treacherous, and I was surprised we went green, but everybody’s in the same boat. I just drove it down into Turn 1 and got hit from behind by a Porsche just spinning out of control. That’s not the way you want to start the season.”
With nine hours to go, having gone through their pit strategies, they no. 67 was back on the lead lap. Westbrook, at the wheel, did a great job extending the fuel stint close to two hours as they were going between cautions and green flags.
“I thought we played it beautifully,” said Westbrook. “We were five laps down, though it took us a lot longer to get those laps back than we ever anticipated. Patience was the key, though, and we got them back. We knew it was going to rain at the end, so they put me in the car, and I love the rain. I had to be really patient in the beginning, just getting used to the conditions. Finally got some confidence out there and we were able to pull out a sizeable gap in the lead. And at that point we were in control, but I just couldn’t understand why we were still running at that point.”
Unfortunately, on the lap they stop for fuel, another full course yellow was thrown. Since they desperately needed to fuel, Westbrook came into closed pits and therefore received a penalty which dropped them to fourth and shortly after the red flag this stopped their progress.
“It’s really, really tough to take it right now, when you consider the fight that we put on,” continued Westbrook. “To come away with nothing is a real kick in the teeth when we had gotten ourselves in the right spot.”
“It’s disappointing not to win here today, because we certainly had two cars capable of winning,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “The weather conditions were treacherous for everyone, and it certainly played into how the race turned out. But we had both Ford GTs get back to the front after issues on the track, and that’s a tribute to the Ford and Ganassi crews and their never give up attitude, who worked so hard to make repairs under very tough conditions for them. We didn’t win today, but these efforts go a long way to helping win championships.”
The next event will be at the Sebring 12 hours March 13-16.
Images: PMstills Photography