SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - The #66 Ford GT, raced by Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson won a dramatic ‘6 Hours of Spa’ today, taking maximum championship points from the first race of the 2018-19 WEC Super Season. In contrasting fortune, the #67 GT of Harry Tincknell (GB), Andy Priaulx (GB) and Tony Kanaan (BRA) ended the race in the tyre barriers after just one hour.
“This was a race of extremes for us,” said Team Principal, George Howard-Chappell. “The most important thing is that Harry is okay. The car is clearly very strong and now we need to have a good look at it to work out what happened. The 66 crew had a fabulous result. It has been two years coming and they drove brilliantly – Oli’s move down into Eau Rouge is one of the best I’ve seen.”
The two Ford GTs started the race line astern at the front of the GTE Pro grid after scoring a 1-2 in Friday’s Qualifying session. At the first corner Tincknell ran wide in the #67 GT, which allowed Mücke to blast his way through to take the lead. As the race developed, the top three began to pull away from the pack with Tincknell chasing Bruni’s Porsche, which in turn was chasing Mücke.
“It was slippery going into Turn 1 at the start,” said Mücke. “I saw that Harry had a lock up and I locked up my front tyres too but I made it through and I think that was the decisive moment for us.”
Slick work in the pits by the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing crew got the #67 GT ahead of the Porsche in the first pit stops and the two Ford GTs re-joined the race together, with Mücke ahead of Tincknell.
Shortly after the one-hour mark the two cars went through Eau Rouge and although Mücke sailed through, Tincknell went off the track and into the tyre wall at Raidillon. It was a heavy crash but Tincknell managed to walk away unaided. He was subsequently checked over in the circuit medical centre before returning to the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team garage.
“I took my usual racing line but as I came off the kerb the car hit the ground hard and there was nothing I could do,” said Tincknell. “It felt like there was some sort of failure but the team will investigate this fully after the race. I feel a bit battered and bruised after a 29G impact but the fact I was able to jump out and walk away is testament to strength of the Ford GT race car.”
Meanwhile the #66 GT was pushed off the track by an LMP2 car and lost the lead to a Porsche. Billy Johnson jumped in for the middle stint and set off in pursuit of the Porsche, driving an impeccable double stint. With two hours to go Olivier Pla took the wheel for the run to the flag.
With one hour of the race remaining Pla was steadily reeling in the leader and had got the gap down to just 14 seconds. A timely Safety Car helped to close the gap and at the restart the Frenchman was on the attack. In what was probably the move of the race he passed the #91 Porsche through Eau Rouge and sailed off into the distance, crossing the finish line 45-minutes later to rapturous applause from the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team!
“I knew on the last stint that I needed to pass the #91 Porsche quickly so I could then build up a safety gap so it was good to get it done,” said Pla. “It was a very difficult season for us last year; we had a lot of pace but there was always something, some drama and bad luck that cost us the results. We are really happy today. My teammates did a perfect job all weekend and the car has been fantastic so I hope we can continue like this!”
“To be one of the development drivers of the Ford GT and to be able to race it is a huge honour,” said Johnson. To then win in that car brings the whole thing full circle and is a dream come true. I love driving with these guys and it’s great to have such a brilliant team – what a great start to the 2018/19 season!”
“This result was a long time coming,” said Mücke. “This time it all went our way and I hope this is the start of some good times for the whole team.”
Today’s result was particularly poignant for team boss, Howard-Chappell: “Something I’d like to say from a Multimatic and personal point of view is that I had to miss a funeral to come here. John Miles got me into motor racing so today’s win is a tribute to him.”