Re-Upload - SVTP Coverage of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

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Ford Mustang and Ford GT Sweep Pole at Daytona, Ford Victorious over Ferrari and Porsche.

By Evan J. Smith
Photography by the author

Ford Performance kicked off the 2017 race season with great success at the World Center of Speed, Daytona International Speedway this past weekend.

The new Mustang and Ford GT supercar qualified on pole (Mustang in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Ford GT in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Weekend kicked off with Ford’s newest Mustang racer qualifying first and second and the Ford GT followed, locking in the top three spots in the GTLM (GT Le Mans) category for the 24 hour race.

In the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Ford Mustang driver Dean Martin drove the KohR Motorsports JDRF Ford Mustang to a hard-fought P1 position in the Grand Sport class, passing defending champion Scott Maxwell in the final minutes of the session.

“I just started getting after it, waiting for my Continental Tires to come in,” Martin said. “I just found that sweet spot on the third or fourth lap. I had a good lap going and I just chucked it into the Bus Stop. I wasn’t sure I was going to come out the other side. I just carried a ton of speed, drafted up behind another car and got a really good pull from them and just popped out past and put down the time.”

Martin’s KohR JDRF Ford Mustang is the first customer car and according to Ford, was delivered a week ago. This model was unveiled only a few months ago at the SEMA Show in November. “It was pretty exciting for a time out there,” Martin said. “I had no idea what was going on until after I turned the laps and the guys told me ‘It’s you and then Maxwell, and he’s .02-seconds behind you, but I didn’t know which position I was in. We had some new car teething issues for the afternoon, but it all came together in qualifying.”

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series Mustang features a naturally aspirated 5.2L V8 racing engine specifically tuned for the competition that was engineered, validated, and built by Ford Performance in partnership with Roush Yates Engines. The 5.2L engine is backed by a Holinger six-speed manual transmission that is operated through paddle shifters with direct-pneumatic activation. The powertrain also carries a dry sump oiling system, ZF-developed twin-plate racing clutch and flywheel.

When the green flag waived, defending Grand Sport champion Scott Maxwell passed Martin for the lead. Not one to lay back, Martin went on the hunt with his No. 59 JDRF Ford Mustang, but was sidelined early by a broken halfshaft.

Veteran Multimatic drivers Maxwell and Jade Buford led in the No. 15 Mustang. The duo battled on-track contact and penalties to come back from behind three times until a drive-thru penalty handed down for spinning the tires while the car was still elevated during a pit stop finally stopped their effort for a win for good.

“The car made it through the race. It ran flawlessly,” Buford said. “There was some unneeded drama. Some of it due to on-track incidents that were kind of hard to avoid and others were things we couldn’t avoid, like a cut tire. All in all, the Mustang ran flawlessly. This car is going to win races. It’s been a really great weekend.” Maxwell and Buford still managed to finish P5.

“The car was fantastic,” Maxwell said. “Even with the front-end damage, it was pretty strong. It was right on pace with the leaders, but I knew what their strengths were and I knew what our strengths were, and I thought I had it covered. It’s going to have a great future. It’s a great car and I think we’ll sell a lot of them and see them around the world, which is great. A Mustang is a Mustang, but this is really great. I’ve driven Mustangs for over 20 years now, and this is the best one yet.”

Martin is happy about the momentum he carries into the season with the new Mustang. “There’s not much to say about the car, it’s just awesome. This new format and the parts that the Multimatic guys have designated for the car and the way it’s been developed is fantastic. The Ford guys did such a great job with the aero. The car is just easy and fun to drive. We had a little issue today and we’re going to figure it out and move on and start winning some races.”

With only a year under the proverbial racing belt, the quartet of Ford GTs prepared by Multimatic and Chip Ganassi Racing were poised and ready to take on the grueling Rolex 24. Solid engineering and modern technology combined to give each race team unprecedented reliability, and Roush Yates Racing Engines had the Ecoboost twin-turbo powerplants humming perfectly. Still, endurance racing presents the unknown.

Starting on pole, the No. 66 Ford GT took the early lead, setting a strong pace. It was chased the Ferrari 488 GTE, Porsche 911 RSR, Corvette C7R, and a pair of BMW M6 GTLM racers. The race kicked off under cloudy skies and with temperatures in the 50s, and the forecast was for rain starting just past dark and lasting through the night.

Teams worked different strategies of fuel, tires and driver changes, which mixed up the field quite a bit. By 8 pm, the gray sky gave way to darkness and headlights glistened in the night and Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course was filled with the sounds and smells of race fuel, worn tires and smoking-hot brakes. Then the rain came.

The overnight stints proved to be most challenging, the wet track and cold temperatures presented a test for the drivers. The Number 67 had an incident in the “Bus Stop” chicane, but it was repaired and back on track with only a handful of lost laps. The other three Ford GT teams made it though the night without incident.

When daylight emerged the Ford, Ferrari and Porsche were contending for the lead. And with 30 minutes to go the Number 66 Ford driven by Muller, Hand and Bourdais, the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE and the No. 911 Porsche 911 were locked in a sprint-style battle. A late caution and restart bunched the trio, with the Ferrari jumping out in front. Muller was at the wheel of the GT and he made a bold move to pass give the Ford GT the edge.

Ferrari and Porsche posed a challenge, but Muller drove a smooth, protective line—and then, with just four laps to go—the Ferrari and Porsche faded. And like he did in Le Mans, Muller drove to victory after 24 hours of competition (5th overall). The other GTs finished 5th (69) , 7th (68) and 10th (67) in class.

“The win made me very uncomfortable to watch. And sweaty,” said Hand, who with Bourdais watched Muller take the checkered flag with the No. 66 just as they did at Le Mans. “I told my family at home before I left that I had a good feeling about this race. I really felt like we could win. We worked really well together. That’s what makes a difference. The three of us together, you may not think a German dude, a French guy who has a bunch of IndyCar championships and a guy from California would work together the best, but we do really work well together.”

While it looked as if more than one Ford GT would make the podium, various pit strategies and cautions landed the No. 69 (Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Tony Kanaan) P5 and the No. 68 (Olivier Pla/Stefan Mucke/Billy Johnson) P7. The No. 67 Ford GT finished laps down after an accident in the Bus Stop in the treacherous overnight hours.

“It’s an incredible event,” Tincknell said. “You race hard from the start but it’s all about the last hour and keeping the car in one piece for that final flat out run to the flag…Overall, though, what a mega experience. The Americans know how to entertain; bunching the cars up and going racing in this way is incredible. There was some great racing going on and I really want to come back next year.”

It was the 7th Rolex 24 win for Chip Ganassi Racing, the first in the GT ranks, and the 19th win for Ford at the event. Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing first teamed up to win in prototype in 2015. “With any of these endurance races, there are many ways to win or to lose,” Bourdais said. “To be honest, we just didn’t put a foot or a wheel wrong.”

Both Hand and Bourdais thanked Muller for fighting off rival manufacturers for a riveting finish that landed them on the top step of the podium. “Dirk just did it in the end,” Bourdais said. “It’s always that way in Daytona. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in the 23½ hours, everything matters from the last yellow flag.”

“I have to thank my teammates here,” Muller said. “To follow up to things Chip is always saying in our meetings, hand the car over as you would have it. We’re lucky I don’t have to hand the car over, because there’s a little scratch on the right-side mirror now from my move with the Ferrari (laugher), but what a race. Joey said it. I think to sit here is a big honor because we managed to win a very challenging race. I think the whole team a fantastic job.” Ford’s history with the event in its current format stretches back to its very first green flag. In 1966, a Ford GT-40 won the first-ever 24-hour endurance race at Daytona.

“This is a great win for our GT program,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president of Global Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company. “It's a credit to everyone involved, from our Ford team to Ganassi, Roush Yates, Multimatic and Michelin. Conditions were very difficult throughout much of the race, but that winning car had no issues at all against some of the best competition in the sport. There's a lot to be proud of with this win and we hope it's the start of a great season for our teams.

“It’s a proud day for everyone at Ford,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “We came into this race with a lot to prove after last year and it was great to see all four of our GTs run so well. The competition was amazing, and the 66 car guys ran a perfect race. It's a great way to start 2017, and we couldn't be more proud of everyone who worked so hard to prepare for this race.”

Dirk Muller climbs from the No. 66 Ford GT after winning the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

Pre race ceremonies on the grid at Daytona.

Running Second with 30 minutes to go, Muller held of the Porsche 911 and then went after the Ferrari.

Dean Martin qualified on pole with the No. 59 Ford Mustang. A broken half-shaft kept the team from competing for the win.

Executive Vice President, Product Development and Chief Technical Officer, Raj Nair (left) walks proudly to Victory Lane with Global Director of Ford Performance, Dave Pericak after their historic win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Ford GT is a marvel of engineering. Tucked in there is a twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 prepared by Roush Yates Racing Engines.

Pericak in the media center with Chip Ganassi and Raj Nair.

Hot, wet Michelin tires fresh off the No. 66 Ford GT.

This is how the crews “rest” during a 24-hour marathon race.


Ford GT driver and Mustang owners Kristy and Bill Johnson (and Lada the dog).

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