Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller took their first IMSA GT Le Mans class victory in just over a year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The No. 66 Ford GT pairing won a fast-paced two-hour, 40-minute contest that ran without any caution periods to earn a first trip to victory lane since the round at Lime Rock Park in July 2018.
Mueller started from second on the grid but moved into the lead after 20 minutes when Jesse Krohn temporarily lost drive coming out of the long Turn 1 right-hander in his pole-sitting No. 25 BMW M8 GTE.
While Krohn was able to continue, Mueller was clear out front and went on to remain so until the end of the opening hour, when the bulk of the GTLM field pitted for the first time.
Antonio Garcia emerged from this opening pit cycle as the new leader, but this was because the two Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs had pitted around 20 minutes earlier than the other crews.
The rest of the race became a mismatch of strategies between the Corvettes, which were consigned to a three-stop approach, and the others on two-stop targets.
Mueller gave the No. 66 Ford to Hand at the first opportunity, and the American driver stayed in charge of the main pack with the two Team RLL-operated BMWs sat behind.
At the start of the final hour, Garcia led from his teammate Tommy Milner, however both Corvettes owed a stop and came in on cue with 40 minutes remaining.
This freed up Hand – who had taken his second and last fill of fuel – to cycle back into the lead, half a minute ahead of Krohn’s teammate John Edwards and Connor de Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW.
De Phillippi then came under pressure from the fresher Corvettes in the closing stages, with Garcia using slower traffic as a pick to lunge past into Turn 4 before Milner got through a few moments later.
This handed Garcia and Jan Magnussen a podium result, behind Krohn and Edwards, who in turn finished 22 seconds away from the winning Ford duo.
The No. 67 Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe was also originally part of the lead fight, but it lost ground when Briscoe spun exiting the final corner 40 minutes in.
Westbrook took the checkered flag in sixth, ahead of the two factory Porsche 911 RSRs.
Robichon Crowned Sprint Cup Champion
Zach Robichon became the inaugural IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup champion with a fourth-place finish in the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R he shared with Scott Hargrove.
The Canadian driver entered the final round of the competition comprising the seven shorter rounds on the full WeatherTech Championship schedule just one point ahead of Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher.
The No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo that Hindman and Farnbacher shared started from second but struggled for pace from the outset and faded to the back of the 11-car field after the opening round of pit stops.
This effectively sealed the direction of the title, although Hindman and Farnbacher continue to lead the main WeatherTech Championship points with one round to go.
Upfront, Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis took a dominant first victory of the season for the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.
Lewis made a perfect getaway from pole and established a lead of more than 20 seconds over Hindman, who was keeping the rest of the field at bay, in the first stint.
While the Lamborghini’s advantage dropped to as little as eight seconds after the opening pit sequence, Sellers gradually strengthened its grip on the race and went on to take a comfortable 31-second victory over Toni Vilander in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 started by Cooper MacNeil.
The Ferrari started from third, a position MacNeil would maintain until progressing to second when the Hindman/Farnbacher Acura fell down the order.
Fourth place went to Andy Lally and John Potter, whose No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini got past Hargrove’s Pfaff Porsche in the final stint.
Behind the Sprint Cup-winning 911 GT3 R was the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, which recovered from a drive-through after Jeroen Bleekemolen spun the Turner Motorsports BMW around in the first hour.
RESULTS: Monterey Sports Car Championship