Just four races into the heralded Ford GT program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe earned a breakthrough GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Westbrook and Briscoe benefited by a mix of speed and strategy to earn the victory. Briscoe qualified the No. 67 Ford GT second on Saturday and slotted into second behind the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE of Daniel Serra through the early stages of the two-hour race. He ran one position ahead of teammate Dirk Muller in the No. 66 Ford GT until he pitted to turn the car over to Westbrook 45 minutes into the race.
During that stop, the car momentarily got stuck in first gear, and by the time Westbrook rejoined the field he had fallen all the way back to sixth in class. With the loss of track position, the team elected to conserve fuel.
“[The pit stop] cost us five or six seconds and five or six positions, and you aren’t going to drive it to the front from that position” Westbrook said. “So that’s what you get when you race with Chip Ganassi, you get out of the box solutions.”
The out of the box solution eventually paid big dividends. Westbrook worked his way up to second in the running order, behind teammate Joey Hand in the No. 66, as his other competitors made their final pit stops.
With 15 minutes remaining, Westbrook dove to the inside of Hand entering Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s famed Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2). With six minutes to go, Hand pitted for a splash of fuel, dropping him back to an eventual sixth-place finish.
Westbrook, meanwhile, had conserved enough fuel that he did not have to stop again, going on to score the win by 12.545 seconds over Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 68 Ferrari. It was Westbrook’s ninth career victory in major U.S. sports car racing and his third at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and was the 12th major U.S. sports car win for Briscoe.
“It’s just so exciting,” Briscoe said. “It’s been a tough few months getting this program running. These guys have been working so hard. We’ve struggled with battles. We struggled a bit with balance but figured it out. We just missed the pole, and to get the win for Ford is huge. It means a lot for me and the whole program.”
Third place went to Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR.
Four different manufacturers were represented in the top-four GTLM finishing positions. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen finished fourth in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, behind the winning Ford, second-place Ferrari and third-place Porsche.
While the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa led for the first 40 minutes of the race, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE also spent some time at the head of the field. Giancarlo Fisichella led for five laps just past the halfway point in the race before his final pit stop of the day. Fisichella and co-driver Toni Vilander finished fifth in the race.
The No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE co-driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra won the DEKRA Green Award. The award recognizes the most clean, fast and efficient team in the GTLM class in each race through a scoring system developed in a partnership between IMSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and SAE International
BMW Team RLL adopted a different pit strategy than rest of the GTLM field. Dirk Werner pitted under green-flag conditions near the 30-minute mark in the race, dropping the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM to the rear of the field. However, Werner moved into the lead 15 minutes later, when the rest of the class field pitted under full-course caution. Werner led for nearly 20 minutes and went on to finish ninth in class alongside co-driver Bill Auberlen.
Dave Pericak, Director, Ford Performance, on the first victory for the Ford GT: “We’ve been waiting for this win for a long time. I think it’s great that it came as a fuel economy win. It’s great for Ford EcoBoost, because that’s what it’s all about.”