By IMSA Wire Service
HOMESTEAD, Florida – Continuing its trend of making major announcements on the biggest stages, officials from Ford Motor Company and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing unveiled the driver lineup for the highly anticipated Ford GT program to debut in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in a packed media center at Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of Ford Championship Weekend.
The two-car team will compete in the GT Le Mans class beginning with the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31, 2016. The full-time WeatherTech Championship lineup will see American driver Joey Hand team with German Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT, with Australian Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook from the United Kingdom in the No. 67 entry.
In addition to the driver announcements, the new Ford GT race car will be featured in pre-race festivities for Sunday’s Ford 400 season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The lineup was unveiled by Ford Motor Company Group Vice President, Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair and Ford Performance Global Director Dave Pericak alongside team owner Chip Ganassi.
“What I look for in a driver first of all is heart,” said Ganassi. “At this level, all drivers are fast. We want drivers that can work well with others.”
“We can’t say enough about how proud we are to present this group of drivers,” added Nair. “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.”
Hand joined the Ganassi team this year and shared the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley Daytona Prototype with Scott Pruett in the series’ top Prototype class, winning at Circuit of The Americas in September. The engine that will power the Ford GT is the same 3.5-liter Ford EcoBoost engine used in the No. 01 prototype for the past two years in IMSA.
In 2016, Hand moves to the GT Le Mans class and will be reunited with Muller, with whom he teamed to win the 2011 American Le Mans Series GT class championship for BMW Team RLL.
“It’s exciting to have my old pal, Dirk Muller, back,” Hand said. “We’ve won a lot of race together and it’s nice to be with somebody you know. In sports car racing, it’s all about that give and take. You have to compromise a little bit. Dirk and I know what we want from the car and it’ll be fun.
“At the same time, we’ll get to know Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, both good guys. We just spent some time fishing in the Keys in the last couple of days. I think overall, it’s going to be fun.”
Briscoe returns to Chip Ganassi Racing on the sports car side after two previous stints with the team’s IndyCar program. He won both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2015 in the GT Le Mans class for Corvette Racing. He joins Westbrook, a previous factory driver for both Porsche and Chevrolet.
The Ford GT racing program was announced in June at Le Mans, six months after the production version of the Ford GT was announced with great fanfare at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The team’s car numbers pay homage to Ford’s victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 and 1967.
The two WeatherTech Championship Ford GTs will join two cars based in Europe for a four-car assault on the GTE Pro class in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“[We want] drivers that have endurance car experience,” Ganassi said. “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.”
Just prior to the official unveiling at Homestead, all of the drivers and both race cars participated in a two-day IMSA-sanctioned test at Daytona International Speedway. The next official on-track activity will be the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 8-10, 2016. That test will be open to the public.
Image: Ford Performance