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No. 66 Ford GT Gets Its Revenge

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, January 30 2017

The No. 66 Ford GT made amends for an embarrassing debut at Daytona a year ago by winning on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Michael L. Levitt
LAT Photo USA)

The disaster that was the debut of the Ford GT a year ago in the Rolex 24 did not sit well with anybody connected to development and fielding of the new GT Le Mans cars. All involved were so determined to erase the 2016 result that they flooded the field with four cars this year.

As it turned out, they only needed to bring one Ford GT to Daytona in 2017 – the one that has served as the bell cow for the program. The one driven by Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Mueller. The one, which after experiencing mechanical problems a year ago, went on to win at Le Mans in 2016.

The one that sat on the pole Saturday, cut through the rain and held off a strong challenge from the factory Porsche 911 RST  driven by Patrick Pilet in winning the GTLM race Sunday at DIS; the No. 66 Ford.

“The weekend was just going as it should, as you hoped,” Hand said, “and the car was fast throughout the race.  We had a good car.  It was racy.  Setup we went with made us pretty strong in the wet, also, and we all had to drive through some of that treacherous rain.”

Mueller not only had to  drive through the rain, which started during the night and lasted into the daylight on Sunday, but he also had to deal with Pilet’s Porsche on the final stint of the race. Both were a challenge the German driver said.

“I could write so many books just about every single lap in the rain where I got at least five moments where I thought I was going to scratch it,” Mueller said.

When the race ended, there was just one small scratch on the 66. That’s the way the team likes it, Bourdais said.

“The car is in one piece, it doesn’t have a scratch on it,” the Frenchman said. “We didn’t go back to the garage, didn’t make any unscheduled pit stops or anything like that.  To be honest with you, Dirk just did it at the end.”

Getting partial credit for holding off Pilet were the team’s spotters.

“They really helped me,” Mueller said. “They have definitely half of the credit.  They were always tell me where to cover and where the action is, what’s coming up, and I think if you work with a professional team like with Chip Ganassi Racing, I think that’s where you end up.”

Pilet said he did not end up where he wanted to, but he felt good about the effort.

“I’m never happy with second,” he said. “I’m proud of the work the guys did our first time out. I did everything to overtake the Ford, I destroyed my tires trying to catch him.”

The main-act prototypes may have generated the most interest at the Rolex, and also produced the most controversial finish, the GT Le Mans class produced the most contenders for victory.

Seven cars finished on the lead lap and all seven of those had shots to win.

“The racing was good today,” Hand said.  “I think we had six GTLM’s in line there, at least, maybe even seven, after 24 hours, and a grueling 24 hours, because I’m telling you, that rain in the night was difficult for everybody.

“You know, it was a great show.  I think everybody should be happy.  Everybody involved in sports cars right now, teams, drivers, everybody should be happy and having a good time.”

Pilet finished second and James Calado third in a Ferrari 488. Fourth was Jan Magnussen in a Corvette C7.R while Andy Priaulx in a Ford GT was fifth. Also finishing on the lead lap was the Porsche 911 RSR driven by Kevin Estre and the Ford GT driven by Olivier Pla.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, January 30 2017
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