The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs finished p2, p4 and p5 at the annual IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring, just missing a win after hours of leading the GTLM class.
The race caps off an incredible nine months of racing that brought hard-fought wins at both the Rolex 24 At Daytona (GTLM) and the Le Mans 24 Hours (GTE Pro), and the second place today.
The No. 66 Ford GT finished p2 thanks to a hard-charging Joey Hand, who hung in with the leader until the checkered flag. Hand combined with full-time co-driver Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais, the third driver for the No. 66, to earn crucial points in the hunt for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title and the team’s 17th combined podium since it debuted the Ford GT last year.
“It’s always frustrating to get second,” Hand said. “We got beat by a car that was just faster at night. It wasn’t from a lack of trying. I threw everything at it. At the risk of running my tires off I went for it and thought that I’d get by and head them off. When it’s all said and done, if we can’t win this race we want to be thinking about championships. I think it was a good day. You want to have that win to get the three and keep the streak alive. That would have been a fun thing. When it’s all said and done, we’ve won some big races over the last year. I can’t be too disappointed.
“I’m just happy...when I’m the last guy in the car, I try not to leave anything out there. No, ‘Man, I should have tried harder.’ I gave it all with everything I had. I think we did a good job trying to get what we could get.”
After hours of racing that featured all three Ford GTs at the front of the class, the No. 66 and No. 67 were p3 and p4 with 30 minutes to go and struggling, and it looked like the fairy tale day for the team that qualified p1 had truly come to an end. Then the p2 Porsche served a drive-through penalty for running over the air hose during a pit stop, and suddenly both Ford GTs were back in podium position.
“Things were pretty much under control for most of the day and we were in a great position,” Bourdais said. “Ultimately it ended up not being the result we wanted, but when the ‘Vette got in front we just couldn’t chase it down. When it came down to it, it just seemed they could turn it up a little bit more than we could and that was the difference. We’ll just keep working on the Ford GT and see if we can continue to improve for next time.”
The No. 67 team of Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon was on track to finish p3 until last-lap contact sent it off track. Westbrook, Briscoe and Dixon had already overcome the major setback of starting from the back of the field when the No. 67 wouldn’t start up to take its place at the front of the field as pole-sitter for the green flag. Instead, the p2 No. 66 Ford GT started from the front.
“To get spun out of the podium on the very last lap is pretty disappointing to be honest,” Briscoe said. “We had a great car all day and were really in the fight for it. It was just flat-out all 12 hours here at Sebring. We just missed having the winning balance today but we’ll hang in there and learn from this. It was a great team effort with all three cars this weekend. Thanks to everyone at Ford and the Ganassi team. The cars all ran flawlessly. I’m really proud of the effort everyone put in.”
Woes of a different kind dogged the No. 68 Ford GT. It struggled with a slow puncture in the right-front tire - the car’s second tire puncture of the day - in the closing minutes of the race and finished p5, a spot ahead of where it qualified. It was a disappointing finish for the team that’s made two trips to North America and now goes home to the United Kingdom to start its FIA World Endurance Championship season.
“We’re pleased to finish,” said George Howard-Chappell, team principal for the two-car FIA WEC half of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. “I think the team did a great job coming here and putting such a great effort out. We led the race for quite a bit of time and were just a bit unlucky with the two punctures. It’s just too much to come back from.”
The No. 68 car switches back to its regular No. 66 to begin the FIA WEC season at The Prologue, the official pre-season test for the series, at Monza next week, with the first race to follow at Silverstone in April.
“It was good (to see the race from the front of pack),” said Mücke, who closed out the race in the No. 68. “The car felt better and better as the weather cooled off in the afternoon, so I think the strategy we did from yesterday was good, for making a set-up for colder conditions.”