Ford Chip Ganassi Racing swept the first three starting positions in GTLM of the 55th-annual Rolex 24 At Daytona in qualifying Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Driver Joey Hand earned his first p1 in the Ford GT with a 1:43.473, while Richard Westbrook and Olivier Pla qualified p2-3 in the No.’s 67 and 68. The No. 69 Ford GT starts p6.
“I have a great team,” Hand said. “It’s fun to be part of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. They really know how to do this race, so you always come in with a big smile on your face. When you’re a driver with this program, you know you have a chance to win.”
The result was a drastic change from one year ago, when Ford GT debuted at the legendary 24-hour race with teething problems.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since last year,” Hand said. “Last year here it was the car’s first race and we didn’t know what to expect and we were just trying to turn some laps and make the thing go the distance. We’ve had time with it now, we’ve won a 24-hour race (in the GTE Pro category at the Le Mans 24). We know the car will go the distance and we’ve been able to spend time on performance, making the car quicker. Today we made a small change (between practice and qualifying) and just went for it, and I felt like we had something, but you just never know.”
Last June, Hand, with co-drivers Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais, won the GTE Pro title at the Le Mans 24 Hours on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s storied win against Ferrari in 1966.
Ford’s history with the 24 Hours At Daytona is special as well. The same year Ford earned its first win at Le Mans, drivers Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby won the first event at Daytona in its current 24-hour format.
Hand appreciates the sense of forward motion and progress that has propelled the team into 2017.
“Racing is a lot about momentum,” Hand said. “You can say what you want about luck or whatever, but momentum is a big thing. We had good momentum coming out of last year. Dirk and I didn’t have all the results we wanted in the IMSA season, but we had that big win at Le Mans. I’m still riding that wave pretty good and I wanted to try to keep that going here. It worked out. We’re on the pole here at Rolex 24 and I think I definitely have the right team and right partners.”
Westbrook, who leads Ford CGR overall in qualifying performance with three poles in the Ford GT, clocked a 1:43.704 lap for p2.
“I’m really delighted,” Westbrook said. “What a result for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s really nice getting clean air in the car and I am really delighted for Joey to get on pole. I couldn’t be happier to join him in the front.”
Pla’s stellar opening qualifying laps put him p3 (1:43.987) before he spun off track in the tricky hairpin.
“After the first two practice sessions we went into qualifying feeling pretty confident,” Pla said. “I was expecting a little bit more but I made a small mistake under braking for Turn 3 and had a spin. It’s fantastic for Ford to get a 1-2-3 here. Of course I would have loved to be on pole but anything is possible in 24 hours.”
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