Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastien Bourdais have a chance to write their names in the history books this weekend at Sebring as they seek to add the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring crown to those already won at Le Mans and Daytona.
The trio withheld the Ferrari charge at La Sarthe in their Ford GT last June, then braved treacherous conditions to take victory in January’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at the Rolex 24.
All that remains in the revered triple crown of endurance racing is a victory at Sebring.
The three Ganassi pilots acknowledged it would mark a special achievement, but to a man they said the expectation is nothing less when driving for Chip Ganassi.
“Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing is something really special,” Mueller told Sportscar365.
“The first time I came into the building in 2015 and I saw all the trophies, I can tell why there are so many trophies!
“The team is unbelievable. It’s really, really motivated in all respects, really hungry to win races.”
Mueller’s full-season teammate Joey Hand agreed, saying winning crown jewel events is in the team’s DNA.
“We seem to be all about winning these big races, which is good with me,” said the Californian. “I love winning the big ones.
“That’s why I love this team so much. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve watched Chip Ganassi Racing win big races.”
Ganassi and Ford’s endurance success has come on the heels of a remarkable five-race win streak from Corvette Racing, dating back to the 2015 Rolex 24, through Sebring last year, which saw the Pratt & Miller squad nearly claim the triple crown twice-over.
While drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner achieved the feat as drivers, winning Le Mans 2015, as well as Daytona and Sebring the following year, their streak was abruptly halted at Le Mans by the Blue Oval’s triumphant return, on the 50th anniversary of its first win.
It came as a popular victory for Le Mans native Bourdais, who has supplemented his full-season IndyCar program with an endurance effort at Ford.
“All of the big classics have pretty much been done, and there’s one more to get,” Bourdais told Sportscar365. “It would be pretty sweet.
“I know it means a lot, historically, it means a lot to Ford to win these three and clinch both Daytona and Sebring as well as Le Mans.
“It’s not taken lightly, and they’re going to give themselves the best shot because they have three cars, and hopefully we are in the good one again.”
When asked what makes the team successful in the sport’s marquee events, all three drivers said it comes down to the people Chip Ganassi has assembled, and it starts at the top.
“The thing I’ve learned being at Chip’s place is he gives everything to the guys and to the team,” said Hand. “He gives them everything we need to succeed.
“To go to Le Mans and win on the first try is super impressive, but that’s what the Ganassi guys are so good at. It starts with Chip and his mindset: he’s a winner. He has a lot of winners on the team.”
“It’s a flawless organization that is a well oiled machine,” added Bourdais. Everybody has been there, for the most part, for quite some time.
“Some guys leave and some guys come in to fill those gaps but the core group is the same. It’s very stable. That’s what you need for a successful racing program.
“They obviously do it with the right people and the right amount of money and the right technical partners, so nothing’s missing in the organization to achieve.
“That’s the key to the success that Chip’s got. He’s making it happen, but he’s surrounding himself with great people and making the means to get what they want to achieve done.”
With a stout field of competition in GT Le Mans, including an extra Ford GT from the manufacturer’s WEC stable, Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais know completing the trifecta in a 12-month consecutive period will be no easy task.
Hand, who co-drove with Mueller at BMW Team RLL for two Sebring class wins in 2011 and 2012, added that their past success coupled with the team’s strong recent history at the track has him feeling confident.
The claimed overall victory in its Sebring debut in 2014, with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti in a Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP.
“It’s a track that, in history, [the] Ganassi guys have been quick there,” said Hand. “They’ve won there, I haven’t won there with Ganassi, but Ganassi has won there. Dirk and I have won there [together].
“It’s a race where we always seem to be in the mix. I’ve got a good feeling about it. We ran well at the test, but I think it’s going to be a dogfight.
“It always come down to making sure, that race, having a car good to go for the last hour or so because I’ve fought for the lead of this race to win it once in the last corner and once to win it in the last ten minute so it will go down to the end.
“If nothing else, it’s going to be a fun one.”