Ford's 1-2-3 finish at last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans made international headlines, but the road to victory for its new GT model was much easier than expected. Ease was nowhere to be found on the path to the brand's second 24-hour win in less than a year as its Le Mans-winning trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais spent the weekend locked in one of the fiercest battles ever seen in IMSA's GT categories.
Their No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT, nearly pristine despite a hundred chances to spin and crash during 14 hours of frigid rain, survived another hundred chances to be hit as half the GT Le Mans class circulated in a supercar train around the 3.56-mile Daytona circuit.
The ragged yet flawless performance saw the team and drivers expend everything they had to keep factory entries from Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette and BMW out of Victory Lane.
"I think we had six GTLM's in line there, at least, maybe even seven, after 24 hours, and a grueling 24 hours," said an exasperated Hand. The constant attack from rival cars and bad weather only added to the sense of accomplishment for the No. 66 squad.
"I was right before Dirk, the last – the couple hours before he drove, and you come off that rain at night, the intensity, your eyes are popping out of your head," Hand continued. "I got in, it was raining, I had to do that cross over to dry. That was tough. Those slicks, when you put them on and it's still wet, and the temperature was so low, that was the trickiest part was to get the temps up on the slicks right away. After that we still had a good car."
After 24 hours, the top seven GTLM cars were covered by 7.532 seconds. If Ford's win on its return to Le Mans was too easy, Daytona made sure every inch was earned.