DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- First Le Mans, now Daytona.
Little more than seven months after recording a historic victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT driven by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller repeated the feat today by claiming the GT Le Mans class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Mueller and the No. 66 car took the lead with 34 minutes remaining in the annual 24-hour endurance sports car race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. He was bumped by the Ferrari driven by James Calado, losing a side mirror in the process, but managed to hold the lead to the finish for another iconic victory for the resurrected Ford GT.
“Chip is always saying in our meetings that one of the most important things is to hand the car over as you want to have it – without a scratch on it,” Mueller said. “I’m lucky that I didn’t have to hand the car over to anyone, because there is a little scratch on it now.”
Having seen the mirror fly away, Indy car veteran Bourdais was worried.
“I started to look at Joey (in the team’s pit) and he was about as pale as I was,” said Bourdais, who will drive this season for Dale Coyne Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. “It’s very uncomfortable, but I couldn’t be any more proud of these guys than I am. That was an unbelievable job that Dirk did at the end to make it stick.”
The Ford GT program has numerous ties to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Ganassi owns Indy cars driven by Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, who were part of two other Ganassi Ford GT entries at Daytona; Kanaan brought the No. 69 car home in fifth place in GTLM and ninth overall.
The team’s boss is Mike Hull, CGR’s managing director who also oversees Ganassi’s Indy car operation. The GTs are assembled at Ganassi’s headquarters on Indianapolis’ northwest side and several team leaders, engineers and mechanics are involved in the sports car and Indy car programs.
At Le Mans last summer, the GT won on the 50-year anniversary of the original Ford GT’s 1-2-3 podium sweep at Le Mans.
“Dirk just did it at the end,” Bourdais said. “It always is that way at Daytona. It almost doesn’t bloody matter what happens in the first 23 and a half hours. Everything matters from that last yellow flag.”
The overall Rolex 24 victory went to Ricky Taylor and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R shared with brother Jordan Taylor, retiring veteran Max Angelelli and NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon.
The win was controversial, though. With 17 minutes remaining in the race, Taylor’s car bumped into the No. 5 Action Express Racing Cadillac driven by Filipe Albuquerque, who spun and lost the lead.
The incident was reviewed by IMSA officials, but no penalty was assessed.
“It was a good move by Ricky,” said Wayne Taylor, Ricky’s dad and the team’s owner. “I thank the officials from IMSA for calling it the way they did, because they could have called it either way.”
Meanwhile, the return of the Acura NSX GT3, with extensive connections to INDYCAR of its own, celebrated a fifth-place finish in the GT Daytona class. Jeff Segal finished the race in the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing NSX he shared with Ozz Negri Jr., Tom Dyer and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champ and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“To be slightly disappointed with a fifth-place finish in the debut of the Acura NSX GT3 in a 24-hour endurance race says a lot about the dedication of HPD, Acura and Michael Shank Racing,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development. “We came in with a goal of just to finish the race and, if not for contact damage from earlier in the race, we were on track for two top-six finishes. This bodes very well for our future prospects in this program.”
Other drivers in the two-car NSX program with ties to INDYCAR were Graham Rahal and Katherine Legge, who helped the No. 93 entry finish 11th in GTD after it sustained significant front-end damage in the closing hours. With eight hours left in the race, both Acuras were competing for the GTD lead.
The GTD class was won by the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, which was brought to the finish line by Michael Christensen. The five-car Prototype Challenge class was won by the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09, anchored by Nicholas Boulle but with Mazda Road to Indy drivers Pato O’Ward and James French driving dominant stints. (O'Ward, 17 and the 2016 Pro Mazda runner-up, is shown at left with the Rolex watch he earned for winning the PC class, as presented by Rolex 24 grand marshal and INDYCAR great Dario Franchitti.)
Other INDYCAR regulars didn’t fare as well. Spencer Pigot was running among the top five in the Prototype class when his No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi erupted in flames less than five hours before the end of the race while running fifth overall. Pigot was pulled from the car and not injured.
James Hinchcliffe, who shared the No. 70 Mazda Motorsports entry with Joel Miller and Tom Long that suffered through several overnight mechanical problems and settled for a 12th-place finish in the Prototype class, 46th overall.
Buddy Rice, winner of the 2004 Indy 500, finished third in the PC class and 32nd overall, and recorded the fastest lap of the day in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship resumes March 18 with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Several INDYCAR drivers are expected to compete there, especially since it follows the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series opener the week before: the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 10-12.