Ford’s Daytona victory loss a “kick in the teeth”

Richard Westbrook, part of the Ford GT crew that overcame a five lap deficit to lead the GT Le Mans class in the closing stages of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, has described missing out on the win as “really, really tough to take.”

Ford’s Daytona victory loss a “kick in the teeth”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing was gunning for a third straight Rolex 24 win and appeared to have it in the bag – against all odds – until the second red flag was thrown for a waterlogged track.

The #67 Castrol-liveried Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon suffered early misfortune when Briscoe smacked the pit-exit wall after his first stop while running second, and the car needed to go back to the paddock for repairs. By the time it emerged and suffered more penalties for entering a closed pit, it was five laps down.

However, fast driving from the trio, smart pit strategy and slick pitwork saw the Ford regain three of those laps long before half-distance. Then strong stints in the rain from Dixon (despite a brief spin) and Westbrook and more quick thinking on the pit wall in response to full-course cautions got the car onto the lead lap.

Westbrook had hit the front of the GT Le Mans pack following the first race stoppage but needed to pit for more fuel when the yellows flew again for a crash.

However, IMSA then threw the red for a second (and eventually permanent) stoppage, and the #67 was penalized for entering a closed pit, costing it a lap and dumping it in fourth place.

“I thought we played it beautifully,” said Westbrook. “We were five laps down, though it took us a lot longer to get those laps back than we ever anticipated. Patience was the key, though, and we got them back.

“We knew it was going to rain at the end, so they put me in the car, and I love the rain. I had to be really patient in the beginning, just getting used to the conditions.

“Finally I got some confidence out there and we were able to pull out a sizeable gap in the lead. And at that point we were in control, but I just couldn’t understand why we were still running at that point.”

“It’s really, really tough to take it right now, when you consider the fight that we put on. To come away with nothing is a real kick in the teeth when we had gotten ourselves in the right spot.”

The #66 car of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais finished seventh, but like their teammates, achieved less than they deserved. Throughout the race, the trio were in the thick of the fight for GTLM honors that frequently saw six of the nine cars in the GTLM class covered by just a handful of seconds.

Even when Bourdais skated off the wet track and struck the tire wall at the International Horseshoe corner with around 9h30m still to go, he was able to rejoin and the Ganassi team’s fast repair work got the car back on the lead lap.

However, in the worst conditions, with three hours still to run but with the #66 at the front, the #911 Porsche of Frederic Makowiecki ran into the back of the Ford, sending Hand to the paddock for 19mins of repairs. He would rejoin several laps down and finish seventh.

“We had a car that was quick enough to win this race,” said Hand, “and we got ourselves in a position to win or at least have a good shot at it.

“Out front, the rain was treacherous, and I was surprised we went green, but everybody’s in the same boat. I just drove it down into Turn 1 and got hit from behind by a Porsche just spinning out of control. That’s not the way you want to start the season.”

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