- Joey Hand will once again pass driving duties off to Sébastien Bourdais in order to focus on Le Mans
- Ford Chip Ganassi Racing seeks its first victory of 2019 as IMSA arrives at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the ‘regular season’ of the WeatherTech Championship; finished fourth and fifth at the track last year
- Four years ago, the first race weekend in May saw the new Ford GT, driven by Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, pick up its first global victory in the IMSA race at Laguna Seca
- All four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs are in action this weekend, as WEC team also runs the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
- Bourdais returns for a second consecutive race in a fill in role for Joey Hand, who is focusing on recovery efforts to ensure he’s prepared for Le Mans
LEXINGTON, Ohio, May 1, 2019–Can history repeat itself?
Four years ago, on this very same first race weekend of May, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing accomplished a landmark achievement when Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe took the No. 67 Ford GT to victory lane at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., the first global win for the then-new Ford GT race car.
This weekend, Westbrook and Briscoe will join teammates Dirk Mueller and Sébastien Bourdais in seeking to return a Ford GT to IMSA victory lane for the first time since last summer’s race at Road America.
Bourdais returns for a second consecutive race in a fill in role for Joey Hand, who is focusing on recovery efforts to ensure he’s prepared for Le Mans.
“It’s really been a rough few weeks dealing with this very strong virus,” said Hand. “Under doctors’ orders, I’ve had to rest with no physical activity whatsoever. Only this week have I felt well enough and been given the okay to do light training and resume preparation for driving again. Having missed my home race at Long Beach and now effectively out of the drivers’ championship points chase, my main priority and focus is to be 100% for Le Mans.
“It’s so tough to miss another race,” he continued. “But with the unknown of how I would feel getting back into the racecar later this week for Mid-Ohio, I certainly did not want to jeopardize and compromise Dirk’s and the team’s chances of success. So we’ve made the collective decision to wait one more event before I get back behind the wheel. Fortunately having Seb available again, means the team still has a great shot at the win! I’ll be cheering the boys on.”
In 2018, IMSA returned to Mid-Ohio for the first time since 2013’s GRAND-AM race. The pair of Ford GTs qualified sixth and seventh before subsequently finishing fourth and fifth. After coming up short in the first three races of 2019, the Fords are looking to capitalize during this midwestern foray and gain momentum heading into next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
“The Ford GT program has been an immense success overall,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “But on top of the great development learnings we’ve gained from this program, we obviously want wins when we show up at a race track. We struggled a bit at this race last year and have come up just shy of a win at all three IMSA races so far this year, but we think we have a good shot at redeeming both those situations this weekend.”
The first three races of the IMSA season feature a twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona, a once-around-the-clock race at Sebring and a brief 100-minute sprint around the streets of Long Beach. Mid-Ohio is the first race to feature the two-hour, 40-minute runtime that makes up the bulk of the WeatherTech Championship races. As the ‘regular season’ begins, all four drivers are looking to kick things into high gear.
Mueller and Westbrook have both captured sports car endurance wins at Mid-Ohio in the past, while Bourdais is seeking his first victory at the Lexington, Ohio facility. Briscoe is also anxious to unload as he has an INDYCAR victory on the circuit, but none yet in sports car racing.
“We’re really looking forward to getting to Mid-Ohio and getting this GT program to the top of the podium for the first time this year,” said Briscoe. “Four years ago this week, Westy and I got the Ford GT’s first win at Laguna Seca, and that victory really gave our whole Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team momentum for the rest of the year. We’d like to duplicate that kind of performance as we get ready for Le Mans next month.”
Mueller and Bourdais are currently fourth in the drivers’ championship standings, with Westbrook and Briscoe sixth. Ford currently sits third in the manufacturers’ standings, 10 points out of first.
The IMSA Sports Car Challenge begins Sunday, May 5, with coverage beginning at 1:30 pm ET on NBCSN domestically and IMSA.tv internationally.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s WEC team will also be in action this weekend at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, their final tune-up before Le Mans.