Dirk Mueller held off Patrick Pilet to win the GT Le Mans class in the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, giving Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, the Ford GT, and this driver lineup of Mueller, Joey Hand, and Sebastien Bourdais its second major 24-hour race in the last eight months after claiming the 24 Hours of Le Mans last June.
Mueller in the pole-sitting No. 66 Ford aggressively poked his nose inside of James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE to take the lead with just over 30 minutes remaining.
The incident, which saw the two cars make contact, was reviewed by race control but no action was taken.
Pilet restarted sixth in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR after the last caution period but used a sequence of opportunistic moves to drive through a GTLM field that still had eight class competitors on the lead lap headed into the final restart with 20 minutes to go.
The Frenchman mounted a spirited challenge for the lead before falling back into the clutches of Calado in the waning laps, only just holding off the Prancing Horse by 0.091 seconds to secure the second spot on the podium in the mid-engined car’s debut race.
Ford controlled qualifying with the Nos. 66, 67, and 68 starting 1-2-3 in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race, but every manufacturer had a car on the lead lap in the final half hour of the race, and four different automakers made up the final top-four.
Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R finished fourth, followed by the No. 69 Ford in fifth.
Trouble struck early for the No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM which pulled behind the wall in the opening hour after encountering gearbox woes and became the race’s first retirement just 15 laps into the race.
The defending class champion No. 4 Corvette crew saw their repeat bid sidetracked three and a half hours in when the car stopped on the backstretch.
The Pratt & Miller squad went to work repairing the power controller and left rear control arm but lost too much ground ultimately finishing 16 laps behind the race-winning Ford.
The No. 67 Ford also suffered a setback when Ryan Briscoe spun on the exit to the Bus Stop and backed into the wall just prior to halfway.
Briscoe drove the stricken car back to pits for repairs, but by the time it returned one hour later it had fallen out of contention and would settle for 10th in class.
RESULTS: Rolex 24 at Daytona