History was made in Sunday’s Continental Monterey Grand Prix, with the Ford GT earning its first victory, in a fuel mileage race in the GT Le Mans class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Richard Westbrook completed the final 1 hour and 17 minutes of the two-hour race on the same tank of fuel, stretching the mileage of the EcoBoost-powered car to its limits.
The Englishman said he was in fuel conservation mode from the moment he took over the wheel of the No. 67 entry from Ryan Briscoe during the race’s second full-course caution period.
“The team immediately gave me a fuel number and I said, ‘Oh my God they’re nuts!’ But we did it,” Westbrook told Sportscar365.
“It was just a real race of trying to keep some sort of pace in the car and get the fuel number, which was really difficult in the beginning.
“It’s something that everyone at Ford Performance and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing deserves. What a strategy… For them to believe that was possible was incredible.
“They believed in me that I could do it and I obviously trusted them.”
Despite showing strong pace early on, an issue during the pit stop, where Briscoe wasn’t able to get the car into neutral, caused a brief delay during the stop.
Briscoe admitted he wasn’t expecting Westbrook to get to the finish without another stop.
“When he got in the car and I got up in the stand, and they were talking about going to the end, we weren’t going to make it at that point. We needed a yellow,” Briscoe told Sportscar365.
“But then his fuel mileage… He was really working on it and the fuel number just got better and better and better, to the point where, ‘If you just get one more tenth in this then you’re going to make it to the end here.’ He got like another two-tenths on top of that.
“The key was starting early. He started saving fuel from the drop of the flag after that restart.
“I think the car was very drivable in that coast phase as well, so we were able to maintain a pace as well. I was pretty surprised.”
The win for the Multimatic-built supercar came in only its fifth race in global competition, after a challenging start to its campaign.
Electrical and gearbox issues plagued the pair of Ford GTs at Daytona, which required a redesign of some components prior to Sebring, where they ran relatively trouble-free.
Westbrook said they had hoped for success this early in the program but it was never a given.
“We were hoping to because when we’ve tested we were really happy,” he said. “We just hasn’t had the breaks in racing, with some of our own misgivings.
“But today we cut out all of the errors. We had a small problem with the pit stop but when you race with someone like Ganassi, you pull out this kind of strategy.
“And today it worked for us. It’s an absolute pleasure.”
The breakthrough win gives the Ganassi squad plenty of momentum heading into its highly anticipated debut at Le Mans next month, where the team will field four Ford GTs across its U.S. and U.K.-based operations.
“You can’t have a track more different than Le Mans,” Westbrook said. “But it gives everyone belief. We’re all human.
“Everyone’s been scratching their heads a little bit. You want a result; we’re all racers. We haven’t been getting the results we were hoping for.
“The appetite is there and the expectation level is there. It really feels satisfying that we were able to execute today.”