It was only last year that Chip Ganassi Racing debuted the No. 66 and No. 67 Ford GT at the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona — though both cars, according to autoweek.com, were plagued by “gear box issues,” which took them out of race contention.
After the No. 66 Ford GT started on pole position in the GT Le Mans class, and led majority of the race’s segments, the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans race-winning car crossed the finish line in first — though their victory included close competition from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari.
Below is an online article from sportscarchampionship.imsa.com, which relives the action in the GT Le Mans class, while the Ford GT co-drivers give their assessment on their victory and the emotions behind the wheel of the Rolex 24:
With a brand-new car for one of the top manufacturers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Le Mans class, and three new manufacturers in the GT Daytona class, handicapping the GT cars in the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona would be tough.
In the end, it was impossible.
The new GT Le Mans car was the Porsche 911 RSR for the two-car Porsche GT Team. It may look familiar, but the traditionally rear-engine 911 became a mid-engine race car, and Daytona was the world track debut of the car. Would it be fast? Would it last 24 hours on its first time out?
Yes, and yes. Both the Nos. 911 and 912 teams contended, and the No. 911 did better than that, challenging for the win at the end but settling for second, behind the favorite, the 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, which edged the Porsche by less than three seconds after 652 laps of the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway infield road course.
The win went to the team of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, aided by IndyCar star Sebastien Bourdais, the same trio that took the Le Mans class victory. It was a matter of unfinished business for Ford, which debuted the racing version of the Ford GT here in 2016, and did not fare well. Ford brought its two North American-based GTs, as well as its two European-based cars, in an all-out assault on the Rolex 24.
And it took all four: While the No. 66 won, second was the Porsche, third was a Ferrari, fourth was a Chevrolet Corvette. And the fastest lap of all four of those cars was less that one half-second apart, and the top seven cars were all on the lead lap.
The second-place Porsche No. 911 was driven by Patrick Pilet, Dirk Werner and Frederic Makowiecki. Pilet, the driver during the last stint, wasn’t happy with second place. “I’m never happy with second,” he said. “I’m proud of the work the guys did our first time out. I did everything to overtake the Ford, I destroyed my tires trying to catch him. But I was glad I was able to maintain second for Porsche.”
Much happier was the No. 66 Ford GT team, including Joey Hand, who said the 12 hours of light but constant rain was an ordeal. “I’ve done a lot of racing in my life, and that was some of the toughest stuff I’ve dealt with,” Hand said. “But we did what we had to do. The car is dirty but there isn’t a scratch on it.”
“We didn’t put a wheel wrong,” said Bourdais, “and it paid off.”
Third was the strong-running No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by James Calado, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, followed by the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Corvette Racing, with drivers Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler.
With the 12 hours of Sebring coming up on March 15-18, can Ganassi’s Ford GT program carry on the winning momentum at the 3.74-mile, 17 turn venue? Only time will tell, but expect the competition in GTLM to be as high as an F-14 Tomcat patrolling the Indian Ocean.