Ford Chip Ganassi Racing went to Petit Le Mans in search of four trophies: the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM Manufacturers, Team and Drivers titles along with the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup for the best-performing GTLM drivers in IMSA’s endurance races (Daytona/Sebring/Watkins Glen/Petit Le Mans). At the end of 10 hours of racing they came away with two: the GTLM Manufacturers championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
Actually, they clinched the manufacturers title after one second of racing, given the fact that wins at Daytona, Watkins Glen, Mosport, Lime Rock and Road America insured that the two Ford GTs only had to start the race at Road Atlanta to secure the championship.
“Winning the GTLM Manufacturer’s Championship is a true testament to how well this Ford GT program has developed in our third year,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “This was by far our best season overall, as evidenced by our five wins from both the No. 66 and the No. 67 cars. Between the efforts of our engineers, the superb race-craft from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and its drivers, and the efforts of our partners at Michelin, Roush Yates Engines and Multimatic, there has been a single focus among everyone this year to win a championship. I am so pleased we can bring that trophy back to share with our Ford employees around the world.”
Although identity of the Tequila Patrón cup winners may have been in doubt a little longer, there was little doubt one of the Ford GTs would win it. Heading into the final hours of the race, only the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais or the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon could win the title. With the 66 leading in the points, the 67 had to lead at the eighth hour of the race to have any chance of overtaking its sister car in the final standings (with a race win as well), but the eighth hour came and went with the 67 in second place, thus the 66 captured the endurance prize.
“We did exactly what we needed to do in the early runs to lead at the four-hour mark and then to get more points at the eighth hour to seal up the TPNAEC. That was the big thing for us today. As for the manufacturer’s championship, how many teams out here won five races this year? Winning the manufacturer’s championship for Ford is a big thing, and it just shows how strong a team we are.”
Of course, FCGR came up short in its effort to clinch the team and drivers crowns. Heading into the race Briscoe, Westbrook and Dixon had to finish first or second and hope the No. 3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Marcel Fassler finish at or near the bottom of the order. And heading into the final hours of the race, things looked good for the No. 67 car which was running at or near the front (depending on the ebb and flow of pit stops) when the No. 3 Corvette lost two laps effecting repairs after Garcia hit the wall exiting the pits on cold tires.
But the final hour of the race saw the Porsche of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki leap to the front during the final round of pit stops, with the No. 4 Corvette narrowly beating the No. 67 out of the pits to take second after the cars pitted under yellow. Although Briscoe initially pressured the Corvette for second, as the final stint unfolded the Porsche and Corvette showed a clean pair of heels to the 67 car — with Tommy Milner in particular setting the 4’s fastest lap of the race. In turn, No. 67 came under increasing pressure from the two Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMWs. With about 30 minutes to go, Briscoe lost momentum avoiding a wayward prototype in the Turn 10/11 chicane, and was a sitting duck coming up the hill for the RLL BMWs.
“We had a really solid day,” Briscoe said. “The guys did an awesome job. I think we drove the right strategy. We got the car to the front. We got it in the position where we were fighting for the championship in the last hour. I was doing qualifying laps for half of the last stint (but) the last 30 minutes were just really disappointing…
“We’ve had a really good year. A little bit too up-and-down. We need to work a little bit on our consistency for next year, but I had a blast. I love this race. I absolutely had a blast today.”