Joey Hand (US), Sébastien Bourdais (FRA) and Dirk Müller (GER), drivers of the #68 Ford GT who captured a victory here in 2016, returned to the podium with a strong, third-place finish in 86thrunning of the world’s toughest endurance sports car race.
The trio was in the mix of the battle for the top spot early in the race with the winning No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR when an ill-timed safety car caught #68 and the other leaders in the pits, causing the rest of the GTE Pro field to be nearly a lap down the rest of the race.
“It was great to be back at Le Mans, said Bourdais, the native of Le Mans who missed the race with injuries last year. “It was a tough race, but we maximized everything as a team. And for that I am super proud of everyone at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. We did all we could and finished third, so that’s the cards we were dealt. We’ll take them and move on.
“A good day at the office I would call it,” said Müller. “Being on the podium at Le Mans is almost like winning because this race is so special and unique. P3 I know, but I am still smiling. For the 68 Ford GT, a victory in 2016 and a third place today means a lot. I look forward to coming back next year and going back up two more spots. It was great job for all the boys who did a great job, and for our WEC boys, I am glad they got good points today.”
“We maximized our potential,” said Hand. “We always work to have really good race car. It takes having a really good race car to win here, and we did. We have no damage on our car at all. We just got caught out a couple times there with safety cars and that hurt us and we couldn’t make it up. I have been here four times and been on the podium three of them, so that’s pretty cool.”
The #68 Ford GT did battle at length with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR for much of the second half of the race along with the #67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell (GB), Andy Priaulx (GB) and Tony Kanaan (BRA), who just missed a podium with a fourth-place finish.
That fourth place helped the #67 trio score major points in the WEC championship, moving them into third place.
“For me personally this has been a good Le Mans,” said Andy Priaulx. “I had a lot of fun in the car, a lot of time in the car (8.5 hours) and I am driving with a brilliant team. I wouldn’t say we had the speed to win but we had the team to win. We could’ve done it today but we were very unlucky with an early safety car, which put us two minutes behind and it’s so hard to get that time back. We got back up into the top two or three positions then we had more bad luck with a safety car. Despite this we had a great race. The car was great, the team did a brilliant job and we finished fourth in a race that is very difficult to finish at all.
“We scored some good points for the WEC Championship (third place) so we’re back on the scoreboard and we will come back fighting. Harry (Tincknell) was the normal Harry: awesome, faultless and super quick. It was great to have Tony (Kanaan) with us too. It’s never easy to join a new team and race around Le Mans but he trusted us all and we became a strong team very quickly.”
The #66 Ford GT, raced by Stefan Mücke (GER), Olivier Pla (FRA) and Billy Johnson (US), was the top Ford qualifier in third, and was very competitive early before an on-track incident caused the car to go off-road and be damaged, losing significant time in the pits.
The trio, which won the WEC season-opening race at Spa, battled back to finish seventh in class, scoring valuable championship points. They now sit fourth in the standings.
“We gave it everything today,” said Pla. “We pushed so hard as we had to recover when we lost two laps early on (due to suspension damage suffered when Billy Johnson had contact with a prototype). We had high expectations for this race. The Porsche was strong but we had a good car for the battle and all I can say is thanks to the guys on our car because they did a fantastic job.
“Apart from that costly contact, nobody put a foot wrong so it’s disappointing that we spent the race fighting back rather than fighting from the front. Stefan (Mücke) as always did a great job and now we’ll focus on the WEC Super Season. In terms of the WEC Championship we actually finished fourth today so, added to our win at Spa, we have a good amount of points to build on throughout the rest of the season.”
The #69 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe (AUS), Richard Westbrook (UK) and Scott Dixon (NZ), who were trying for a rare 24-hour double after their victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona earlier this year, were running sixth with two hours to go before being hit with gearbox issues. The team repaired the car to allow it to finish the race.
“I think we battled hard. We certainly just seemed to lack a little bit of the pace through the night,” said Briscoe. “I think with our set-up and the combination of losing a little bit of track position, that hit us twice as hard when you lose the safety car lines. We lost touch with the leaders, but we were racing hard and hanging in there. We were going to have a great battle right until the end with Corvette. I had a really fun race. It just love driving on this race track. It’s so intense. It’s such a competitive field, literally pushing you out there to drive as hard as you can for 24 hours.”
Although not a victory, Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, was impressed with the team’s effort today.
“You want to win every race you compete in, but to come here, the world’s hardest sports car race, and see the effort that Ford Chip Ganassi Racing put in was great,” said Rushbrook. “They fought hard all day, finished third on the podium for the third straight year and for the third straight year all our cars finished. It’s unfortunate that most of the GTE Pro field got caught out by that early safety car because it changed the dynamic of the race. But we have to be proud of what this team did.”
“We brought competitive cars here and I was happy with that aspect, but this is a race where you need a little bit of lady luck on your side, and unfortunately this time around we didn’t have that,” said Chip Ganassi, owner, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. “We got separated from the pace car on one occasion, and then held back in a few of the slow zones, and that was costly. The leaders didn’t have to deal with that, and they benefited from the situation. I was a little disappointed with that, but that’s the way it goes here. Le Mans picks its winner. And it just didn’t pick us this year.”