IMSA Spotlight: Richard Westbrook
Driver, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
How would you rate your first season with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing? Did you imagine the level of success you achieved in Year 1?
“I would describe it as a roller coaster season, in terms of starting pretty low in Daytona and seeing the trajectory and development and performance of the car afterward and having the amazing sweet spot in the middle of the year, on both sides of Le Mans, and having the podium at Le Mans.
“It was a little bit bittersweet at the end, having the chance to win the championship and just losing out to the Corvette. If someone had told me we’d be fighting for the championship at the beginning of the year, I’d have been happy with it, but when you have a chance to win the championship and you don’t come away with it, you’re always a little disappointed.
“We all knew the car was going to be good, just from the first impressions of the car when we got in it. It was amazing to drive. But what did surprise us was how we really turned things around and caught up to everyone at that level of competition, because the level of competition was so high.
“That’s really down to everyone at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. They put all their racing experience down to really lift us up quickly after three really tough rounds to start off the year.”
What was the highpoint of the season for your personally?
“It would have to be the first victory. If we’re all honest, everyone wants to be the first one to win in that car. I would have loved to win Le Mans, but to get the car’s first victory was really important.
“I think we all saw what it did for morale and everyone’s confidence going into Le Mans. I’ll always look back at that first win.
“We had good pace, but the way the race panned out at Laguna, it wasn’t straight forward. We got every bit of mileage out of every bit of fuel we had and Ryan did a great job putting the car into contention before I got in. It was a real satisfying one.”
Was it a big change in adapting back to a GT car after a number of seasons in prototype racing?
“Yes and no. It definitely takes time and I knew that. It wasn’t a surprise. You get to a certain level straightaway because I know what a GT car is like and you know what to expect, and you can get to a good pace quickly. It was just a matter of getting that little bit of extra out of yourself.
“You have to rely on the tire and not rely so much on the downforce, because the prototypes have a massive amount of downforce. It’s just a matter of tweaking your driving style, which you can always do, but it still takes time. Always after a half hour in the car, I’d be back in GT mode.
“The car is pretty unique and it requires its own driving style. I think we’re all getting better and better with this Ford GT. It’s not like any car any of us have driven before, so we’re all getting better and better.”
What are your off-season plans? Is there a lot of testing planned?
“We haven’t been doing nothing (laughter). It’s not like we’ve all taken ourselves off to the beach! I’ve been in the simulator a lot and we’re going to continue to do that.
“We tested at Sebring, we have a test coming up at Daytona (the IMSA test). There hasn’t really been that much time off. I think it’s time to reassess the fitness levels and build up a base for next year.”
What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?
“I think I’ve come second the last two years in the IMSA championship, and two years before that was third. I really want to win an IMSA championship and to win it in a Ford GT with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Ryan as my teammate would be the goal.
“We know what to expect now. We know how tough the competition is. We can take a lot of pride in our performances this year. I think that has to be the goal, that we can realistically set out to win the championship.
“In 2016, it would have been a bit crazy to say we were setting out for that because we really didn’t know what to expect out of the car. But we’ve got through all that now, we’ve got through our first year, and in 2017 we can say we have a good shot at this.”