All four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs qualified in the top 11 of the strong 17-car GTE Pro field for the 86th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours this coming Saturday and Sunday at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The #66 Ford GT, driven by Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson, was the top qualifier of the Ford cars, and will start third in class. Their time of 3:49.181 was set during Wednesday’s late night qualifying session.
The trio is coming off a dramatic 6 Hours of Spa victory in early May, where they took maximum championship points from the first race of the 2018-19 FIA WEC Super Season.
“I think we can be happy with that,” said Pla. “We had it all under control during the qualifying sessions and improved the car with every run. It was good to get a time in the bag last night. I had a clear lap and I was very happy with the balance of the car so I could go for it. It’s always good to start near the front and I think we have the right set up for the race now. It’s going to be one of the hardest Le Mans 24 Hours for a long time but we are ready for it!”
Next best among the Ford teams was the 2016 GTE Pro class winning trio of Joey Hand (US), Sébastien Bourdais (FRA) and Dirk Müller (GER) in the #68 Ford GT, who will start fifth in class after recording a time of 3:49.582. Bourdais, a native of Le Mans, returns to the team after missing the event last year due to injuries suffered during qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500.
“You always wish you had more time at Le Mans,” said Hand. “You see four-hour practices and two-hour qualifying sessions and you think you have so much time, but you have the slow zones and the red flags and it cuts into your time. It’s been tricky here for sure. We rolled off at the test and were really good. And I thought we had a similar car when we rolled off for the first practice session this week, but the track rubbered up, and we’ve seemed to have too much understeer that we’ve been working on.
“We just got it better in this last qualifying session. We have been trying to work on having a great car for the race here. We’ve been successful in the past doing that. This year, with the 17 GTE Pro cars, it’s going to take everything going right. This race is going to be won by the guys who make no mistakes.”
Starting seventh in class will be 2018 Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona GTLM class winners Ryan Briscoe (AUS), Richard Westbrook (UK) and Scott Dixon (NZ), who improved their time in the #69 Ford GT this evening. The team, looking to capture a rare 24 Hour double victory this year, improved their time to 3:49.761.
The #67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell (GB), Andy Priaulx (GB) and Tony Kanaan (BRA) will start 11th in class with a time of 3:50.429. The #67 went off into a tire barrier in the first of two sessions this evening, causing extensive bodywork repairs, but returned to the track to complete the session.
“We’re pretty pleased with where we have qualified,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “You’d always like to be the number one qualifier, but it’s more important here that you’ve got a race car that can race well, and we have that in our Ford GT. Every year we have been here we’ve learned a little bit more about the GT, and there’s been a lot of effort put forth this past year by our Ford engineers, as well as the people at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Multimatic and Roush Yates Engines to bring a car that we hope to win with on Sunday.”