They’re definitely not alone in these sentiments, but No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller love racing at Road America, which hosts the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for this Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.
They love everything about the four-mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“It’s my favorite track in the whole world,” says Hand, who has raced on tracks all over the world through his sports car racing career, as well as several years in the DTM series. “It’s just a track that is a fun lap to drive.
“It’s just a cool track to do a lap. Sometimes you go to tracks and you test and you practice and it can get kind of dull, but that place never gets dull. It’s always fun to start up the front stretch and do another one.”
Mueller, who Hand affectionately refers to has his “German brother from another mother,” wholeheartedly agrees. He and Hand especially love the winners’ trophy they took home from Road America after winning the GTLM class last year, which was their second win at the track together having won the American Le Mans Series GT class there in 2010. Hand also won there in 2009 in the ALMS GT2 class.
“Maybe it’s because I’m German and I like the Nurburging Nordschleife so much, (but) I’m in love with Road America,” Mueller says. “I really like that track. In the past, Joey and I won races already together there a long time ago. The last two years, we’ve been on pole and won the race last year. Yeah, definitely, we want to keep that momentum, plus the momentum from winning (the most recent race at) Lime Rock and leading the championship into Road America.”
Thanks in large part to an outstanding month of July in which Mueller and Hand won both the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, the No. 66 Ford co-drivers head to their favorite track clinging to a one-point lead in the class point standings over defending WeatherTech Championship GTLM champions Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette. They are two points ahead of their Ford Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT.
July was a great month for the whole team. Westbrook and Briscoe – who co-drove to a victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside IndyCar star Scott Dixon – also won the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on July 8. Either the No. 66 or No. 67 team has led the GTLM standings all year.
“The whole team for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, we are having an extremely good year,” Mueller says. “Especially the (No.) 66, finishing third in Le Mans and at the same time the two wins. We finished second in Daytona and were leading most of the race there.
“We have to say, it’s looking really great for both cars, 67 and 66. So, 67 is only a few points down. They have won, also, two races this year. It looks like we’ve stepped up the game. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, they have so many smart brains. They never stop working.”
They’re not going to be able to stop working anytime soon with as close as the championship battle has become in GTLM. While two points separate the top three in the point standings, there are just 13 points separating first from fifth with four races remaining on the calendar.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Hand says. “This championship is so close. I don’t know if I even can remember a championship that’s been this close. From first to fifth still has an easy potential to win this championship. I think it’s going to make for some great racing, although I would love it if it wasn’t that great and we just sailed away into the sunset and won by miles. But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”
And in Hand’s mind, great racing and Road America go hand in hand.
“I think the design of the track is just one that does produce good racing with long straights and 90-degree corners,” he says. “I mean, it’s very general, but you have long straightaways and hard brake zones, let’s put it that way. That is just so good to be able to draft somebody, to be able to take them deep on the brakes, and that’s why, when you see these races get bunched up at the end with a yellow flag or something, that’s why it’s always a great race.”
“You’ve got to be perfect,” Mueller adds. “That track is so challenging. You have the super high-speed section with The Kink and The Carousel before. You have slower, technical corners like Canada Corner, which goes up the hill and you can’t make a single mistake there because it costs you so much lap time.
“At the same time, you have floaty corners and high braking areas, so you have it all. That makes it so interesting and such a good racetrack.