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Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Firing On All Cylinders One Year After First Ford GT Win
Posted by: ASkyler on May 03, 2017 - 06:39 PM
Feature Articles
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Firing On All Cylinders One Year After First Ford GT Win

Staff Report, IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – At this point in last year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing was struggling.

Though competitive speed was demonstrated, mechanical issues plagued the brand-new No. 66 and 67 Ford GTs through the first few races of 2016. The highest finishing position managed by either car in the first three races was a fourth in class by the No. 67 car, taken at Long Beach.

“At the beginning of the program last year we went through some growing pains and teething issues, but we got through them together,” said Mike Hull, Managing Director for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.


Fast-forward to today and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is preparing to enter the fourth race of 2017 leading the GT Le Mans (GTLM) driver, team and manufacturer point standings. Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand sit atop the leaderboard in the No. 66, while teammates Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe hold third driving the No. 67 entry.

In the past year, Hand and Mueller won two of the sport’s biggest prizes, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while Westbrook and Briscoe turned the team’s first victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last May into a three-race winning streak.

None of this success came as a surprise for the Ganassi operation. The crew knew that if they laid the right groundwork, the results would follow in time.

“We have a great partner in Ford, and we’ve worked extremely closely with them and Multimatic and Roush Yates to create a package that has lasting effect,” Hull explained. “We’ve always approached programs in that way. We’ve worked extremely hard both internally and externally to get long term results.”

Results are not easy to come by in GTLM, as it features some of the tightest direct competition between manufacturers in the world. Representing Ford while taking on BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari and Porsche is no easy task, but Hull keeps his staff focused on the basics.
“Our race team has always been about race day,” he said. “It’s always been about race craft. It’s always been about having the best drivers driving our race cars. All the teams in this category represent major car companies. Most car companies have enormous access to their own respective technology, and part of that technology is how their vehicle’s dynamics work on a race track. In our case, we rely heavily on Ford to help us with the setup of the car.”

Proper race craft will be vital when the WeatherTech Championship heads to Circuit of The Americas (COTA) for Saturday’s two-hour, 40-minute Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown. The race will be televised in the U.S. on a same-day delay beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Live coverage is available from IMSA Radio on IMSA.com beginning at 2:25 p.m. ET, as well as live in-car cameras.

This year’s race at the circuit features a significant date change, moving from last year’s mid-September weekend to early May for 2017. Data gathered during practice will change on multiple fronts, and therefore competitors must utilize all of their knowledge to maximize performance.

“What you do as a race team is use everything at your disposal to chase the race track,” said Hull. “The hotter the race track is, the less grip it has. When it has less grip, you can’t just give up on the setup, you have to work to define the grip level that you need on a particular day’s track temperature.

“If it cools off, you have more downforce, you can gain a mechanical advantage. It’s all about effectively managing the mechanical aspect of the car in relationship to the aerodynamics based on the track temperature.”

Practice for the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown begins at 9:45 a.m. CT on Thursday, May 4. IMSA Radio and IMSA.com also will have live streaming of WeatherTech Championship qualifying beginning at 1 p.m. ET on Friday.

Mercedes-AMG Rides Hot Hand to Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown
Just three races into its first season of IMSA competition, Mercedes-AMG is already making its mark on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

In November 2016, the German manufacturer announced its intention to enter IMSA’s GT Daytona (GTD) class with a three-car campaign featuring the Mercedes-AMG GT3. The daring move meant Mercedes was joining the ranks of one of the most diverse classes of North American sports car racing, with no less than seven other manufacturers competing on a full-time basis.
Yet just three races in, Mercedes-AMG has established itself the one to beat in GTD. After only one of the three cars finished in the top 10 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona – a third-place finish by the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG machine – Mercedes came out swinging at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

Tristan Vautier kicked off the weekend with the manufacturer’s first pole position in the class aboard the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, while Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher guided their No. 33 Mercedes to victory lane with relative ease. The team crossed the finish line one lap ahead of second place, and Bleekemolen also recorded the class’s fastest lap of the day.

The only team missing from the mix was the No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing car, which didn’t stay dormant for long. After a pair of incidents at Daytona and Sebring spoiled the start to their season, Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette piloted the No. 50 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a win at the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach. Additionally, Vautier in the No. 75 posted the fastest GTD race lap.

"The quick start was a really great motivation for the whole team at Mercedes-AMG,” said Stefan Wendl, GT3 Project Manager, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing. “It also shows that the development of our Mercedes-AMG GT3 race car is second to none.

“With the delivery of their cars, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing started a very close collaboration with all three full-season customer teams. Even prior to the 2017 season’s start, all teams went testing at several IMSA tracks with Mercedes-AMG customer support on site.”

Heading into Circuit of The Americas (COTA) this week for Saturday’s Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown, the teams show no sign of backing down.

The No. 33 will be one to watch particularly, with Keating, a Victoria, Texas native, and co-driver Bleekemolen behind the wheel. Keating has three wins at COTA, the most of any WeatherTech Championship driver, and Bleekemolen was with him for two of those victories. The No. 50 WeatherTech Mercedes has momentum as well coming off its win at Long Beach and the No. 75 is sure to show its speed again, as it has early in the season.

“As in every series Mercedes-AMG Motorsport competes, our goal is to win,” Wendl said. “The very early success we had in the first races has given us the lead in the driver, team and manufacturer championships, and that is what makes us really proud. But the title fight is still too early at this stage of the season. There is still a hard and long way to go, and the competition in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is very tough.”

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