DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- The next chapter in Ford Performance opened this weekend at Daytona International Speedway as IMSA staged the opening round of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
In a race that featured four different classes doing battle on the same 3.56-mile stretch of oval-based road course, Ford Performance set out to defend its breakthrough victory with Ford EcoBoost power in the 2015 edition of the 24.
Attracting global media and intense fan interest, the Rolex 24 also marked the first competition outing for the much-anticipated Ford GT as Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought two entries for the global debut of the GTLM Class machines at the “World Center of Racing.”
Ford Performance also had ambitions for the overall race victory as the huge Chip Ganassi effort included two Ford EcoBoost powered Daytona Prototype machines for the 24. The team looked to take a sixth overall win and defend their 2015 victory in the race.
With an eye on repeating Ford's history from 50 years ago as well as toward the bright future of the Ford GT as it enters the global competition landscape, the hopes were high ahead of the Saturday-Sunday race for the thousands of Ford Performance fans that were on-site for the race weekend.
2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Joey Hand wasted little time as he wheeled the No. 66 Ford GT to the lead of the GTLM class on lap 13, and retaking the point again on lap 43. Unfortunately that prime spot on the scoring sheets was soon ceded as a transmission problem sent the car behind the wall for repairs.The fellow team No. 67 Ford GT soon encountered a similar issue and lost time and laps while the Ganassi squad worked to assess and repair the situation as quickly as possible.
Reflecting the depth of talent on the Ganassi squad as well as the huge future potential for the Ford GT platform, both entries returned to the track to race through the night and into the morning all the way to the checkered flag.
While the run was not without setbacks, the opening salvo for the GT’s competition future produced a huge amount of data and lessons learned, as well as a lot of optimism for the next time the team gets to compete at Sebring International Raceway in just under two month's time.
“The good thing about it all, and the thing we are pleased about, is the car is showing some pace, it is showing some opportunity, and overall we are happy that we have a fast car and we need to work on reliability,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company. “That’s a lot better than having a slow car that’s reliable, but you don’t know how to get speed out of it. Overall, this is racing and this is what can happen in racing. If we don’t win every race, we are disappointed, but at the same time we know how to fix our issues and we’ll be better the next time we come out.”
“It’s a brand new program, so we didn’t expect to run trouble-free, but at the end of the day, the car showed some pace and we’ve been able to reach the checkered flag,” said Sébastien Bourdais. “There’s been a few issues, but one that’s been happening a few times which obviously took us out of contention. That had never happened before. We will just try to understand and fix it and come back stronger.”
The fight for the overall victory saw the No. 02 Target/Claritin Ford EcoBoost Riley of Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson, and Jamie McMurray providing the strongest challenge as the entry led seven different times through the opening 250 laps of the race. Unfortunately, a trip behind the wall for brake repairs cost the effort too many laps to be a factor at the finish.“It seems like it was a really long weekend for all of our cars,” said Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 02 Target/Claritin Ford EcoBoost Riley prototype.“I had a really good time getting to be part of the race again and driving with Scott (Dixon), Kyle (Larson) and Tony (Kanaan). I hope we get to do it again. Chip (Ganassi) always puts together a great program for this race and it’s one of my favorite events each year with the team. You really have to have everything go right for you and we just didn’t catch the breaks we needed this weekend unfortunately.”
While the weekend didn’t produce the history-making results that the Ford Performance fans had been hoping for, there were thousands of miles compiled and countless lessons learned during the weekend, every one of which will be put to good use at Sebring in March.