Drivers Ryan Briscoe (Australia), Richard Westbrook (England), Dirk Müller (Germany) and Joey Hand (USA) have been selected for full-time rides in the two Ford GTs that will compete in the full IMSA WeatherTech schedule next year.
The quartet were announced at Homestead Miami Speedway today at the final round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Hand and Müller will co-drive the No. 66 Ford GT, while Briscoe and Westbrook take the reins of the No. 67 Ford GT. Fans of Ford lore and sports car racing will immediately take note of the historic significance of the car numbers – the original predecessor of the Ford GT, the Ford GT-40, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 and 1967. Ford marks the 50th anniversary of that first significant win with the return of the Ford GT to Le Mans in 2016.
“We can’t say enough about how proud we are to present this group of drivers,” said Raj Nair, Ford Group Vice President, Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer.
“This goes straight to the heart of everything we do at Ford, and selecting the right drivers for the Ford GT racing program is just as important as building the car. We believe we have the best car, and now we have the best drivers to match.”
While Ford’s history with sports car racing stretches back to the 1960s, today’s factory effort plays an important role in developing Ford Motor Company’s EcoBoost technology.
Ford’s twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 raced to three wins with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, including a victory in the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, seven podiums and more than 15,000 endurance racing miles in its first season of IMSA competition in 2014. In 2015, the team and engine won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and added another win at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in the Lone Star Le Mans.
“What I look for in a driver first of all is heart,” said Chip Ganassi, owner of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.
“At this level, all drivers are fast. We want drivers that can work well with others. Drivers that have endurance car experience. Drivers that have been to Le Mans. All these things add up. It’s a team of drivers that act like they’ve been together for quite a while already.”
Ford announced it would return to GT racing with the Ford GT last June at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ganassi’s team has captured seven IMSA championship titles, 46 wins and has six overall victories at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Two of the drivers are no stranger to the Ganassi organization. Hand drove alongside Scott Pruett in Daytona Prototypes for Ganassi last year while Briscoe has previous experience with Ganassi in IndyCar.
“I’m very proud to be part of this program. I always wanted to drive for Chip and I got the opportunity last year and now to be with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is a big deal,” Hand said.
“Clearly, this is a big deal. This GT car is a great-looking car. Everybody seems to love it and I think it’s cool to see how Ford has kind of honored the history of the old GT40 and now bringing the new technology of today.
“When you see the car it’s cool-looking. It’s got a great shape and great aerodynamic lines. It’s gonna be a great race car for us and the testing has gone really well. I’ve driven five or six different test days with it from the beginning. As soon as you get in the car everybody asks, ‘What does it feel like?’ It feels like a race car. It feels good. The car doesn’t do anything weird, which is a very good start for a brand new car.
“We’re excited about it. Racing is a lot about team and I know being with Chip Ganassi and, fortunately for me, a whole year at Ford, we have a great team behind us from everybody at Ford to everybody at Chip Ganassi. They’ve done a great job putting together all those people and it’s a pleasure to be back with my old buddy, Dirk Müller, and to get to know Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, it’s gonna be a fun year that’s for sure.”
Westbrook was a championship contender in IMSA last year for Visit Florida Racing while Müller comes across from BMW. He and Hand previously teamed together for BMW in 2011 when they won the GT championship in the American Le Mans Series.
Ford will do battle in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season against two-car factory outfits from Corvette, BMW and Porsche as well as the factory supported Risi Ferrari.
The blue oval marque will also field a two-car team in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
— Ford Performance (@FordPerformance) November 21, 2015
— Mike Hull (@IndyMHull) November 21, 2015
— Jess Westbrook (@JessWesty1) November 21, 2015