Shortly after the race’s final pit stops with just over an hour to go, Joey Hand was 12 seconds down to the race leader. But in the spirit of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s “never say die” attitude, Hand charged to the front, passing the leading Corvette with 13 minutes left and taking his and Dirk Mueller’s No. 66 Ford GT to an overall win in the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park today.
It marked the third consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM victory for Ford CGR, following a Hand-Mueller victory at Watkins Glen and a Ryan Briscoe-Richard Westbrook victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“It’s just amazing,” said Hand. “We knew this race was going to be about being around at the end. We knew tire longevity was going to be key here, and you have to be impressed with Michelin and our tires. They went the distance when we needed them to because I was 12 seconds down there, and that set of tires, we were hard on them. I could see I was reeling him in (No. 3 Corvette). He was struggling in traffic and I was making some moves in traffic that were really aggressive, including getting in a full-on battle with the leading GTD cars. It’s the last stint and you have no choice.
“But we just had the car at the end – this Ford GT. This team just keeps fighting. We worked on race set-up all the way including after qualifying this morning. That’s why we’re capable of winning races here. Today was about capitalizing on opportunity, and that’s what this team is really great at overall. We got one with the 67 guys at Mosport, we got one with us at the Glen, and we got one today racing really hard for it.”
Today’s win, in a 2-hour, 40-minute battle, was the second of the season for the No. 66 Ford GT team, following its victory at Watkins Glen in late June. It also moved Hand and Mueller back into the IMSA GTLM points lead, by just one over the No. 3 Corvette team, and two ahead of their Ford GT teammates in the No. 67. Ford also maintains the manufacturers’ championship lead by 11 over Chevrolet.
“The depth of talent at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing showed itself again today, but also in the last three races,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “It was a big win, a great win for the team. They are finding different ways to win. We couldn’t be prouder of the effort from everyone today.”
“This Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team just impresses me, weekend to weekend,” said Mueller. “It’s such a big family. It’s great. I feel a little bad for the 67 guys, since they had a little trouble there today, but this win means so much to me and the team. It’s our first overall win as a team, and a big win in terms of the championship.
“After qualifying today, we were P3, but I was like ‘we’re so close’ to being right there. This track has not been the best for our car in the past, but at the end of the day we just kept working on race set-up. I knew we had a fast car, and the competition just ran out of tires at the end. Joey was awesome at the end. We aim for the same things in the car, and it makes for a fast car.”
Briscoe and Westbrook qualified fifth this morning, and ran near the top five all day long before finishing sixth in a spirited battle at the end.
“It was just a rough day at the office for us,” said Westbrook. “We tried to roll the dice with strategy, but it didn’t work out for us. But it is three wins in a row for this team. Joey had a great stint there at the end, so it’s really the one thing we can take away from this weekend. We’ll dust ourselves off and get back to it next race.”
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes one week off before heading to Road America race track in Wisconsin the weekend of Aug. 3-5.