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Richard Westbrook Blog: Daytona Struggle Gives Us Big Hopes For Le Mans

A lot has happened since I last blogged for DailySportsCar. The most obvious is that I’m now racing for Chip Ganassi in a Ford GT, moving on from Corvette after a successful five years.

Last season with Visit Florida Racing Michael Valiante and I came so incredibly close to taking the title.  It was a familiar scenario, last race of the season, everything to play for, but we didn’t quite get the job done. I managed to get the pole in weather in very wet conditions but it was a session I really enjoyed. The weather for the race wasn’t much better, and we didn’t know if the rain was going to get heavier or lighter; we kept pushing, however it didn’t pan out as desired.

But, and there is always a but, after that I was able to put pen to paper and join the most exciting project in sportscar racing.

One of the hardest things when you get news like that I received, is sitting on it until the PR team give you the nod to go public. It was a long off-season in that respect, but getting an opportunity to drive the new Ford GT before Christmas, was like all of my presents had come at once.

Any motorsport fan will be familiar with the iconic Ford GT40 cars of the past, and for me to be part of this programme 50 years after Ford’s historic win at Le Mans is such a privilege.

Ford Daytona 1966 07

This isn’t the first Ford GT I’ve driven though. People might forget, but in the awesome GT1 era some six years ago now, I actually drove the Matech Competition Ford alongside Thomas Mutsch, taking four podiums. That was a good car, but this new Ford GT is something very special.

Matech-Competition-Ford

Alongside me this year in the No. 67 Ford GT I’m teamed up with Ryan Briscoe. We’ve got a shared will to win, get on really well and we’re in for a good year.  Although we never shared the same car at Corvette we sort of new each other through that program and Antonia Garcia spoke really highly of Ryan having won Daytona and Sebring together last year.

The ROAR test is when 2016 really gets rolling, and it was really productive for us on the No. 67 side of the garage, and we got through all of the new stuff flawlessly. The car was just running like clockwork. It was also a good chance for the engineers to figure out what the car needed, what turns it on. It also gave me a great opportunity to see the Chip Ganassi guys at work in more detail and they’re mighty impressive.

daytona-test-2016-67

Heading to Daytona this year for the Rolex 24, we knew we’d have a lot of work to do, despite some decent test mileage. To be thrown a 24-hour race as our debut is never going to be easy. There are also things that come up over the course of a race that you just can’t plan for, and sure enough that was our undoing at Daytona.

There were spells at Daytona where we ran really really well. I had some nice battles with Tommy (Milner) and Antonia (Garcia), and when the running was green we were closing in on the pack and for a short while that fourteen-lap deficit didn’t look ‘so’ bad. The car really is incredible to drive and it was great being back in GT racing.

67-Ford-Rolex-24-race

The good news is the Ganassi guys are confident they’ve got to the bottom of the issue and we’re really feeling positive about Sebring. It’s also no small point to stress that we had both cars make the finish, and that is some achievement for a team running new cars.

67-Ford-Rolex-24-race-Pits

My view on it is everything’s new and it’s only going to be better. Speed-wise, there’s absolutely no problem. This has been a really promising start, because we’ve found out so much – and we now know exactly what can go wrong in a 24-hour race with this car. It’s perfect info for Le Mans, which for the record, I can’t wait to return to after a year out last season.

Until next time…

Richard Westbrook