The 2015 season is all about change for Joey Hand, who after a two-year stint in DTM, returns Stateside to take on a new chapter with Chip Ganassi Racing and Ford in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
The former BMW factory driver steps up to a seat in Ganassi’s Riley-Ford alongside veteran Scott Pruett, in what’s being touted as one of the championship favorites in the Prototype class.
For Hand, his return to full-time U.S. racing comes after moderate success in the highly competitive German touring car championship, an endeavor the 35-year-old Sacramento native doesn’t regret taking, but knew the time had come for a new challenge.
“I did want to come back to the U.S. I had a good feel of what was going on there and I was going to come back either way, no matter what I did,” Hand told Sportscar365.
“I don’t regret doing it for sure. I had a good time doing it and learned a lot there. But the travel back and forth, I just kind of had enough with that. It was time to stay home a little bit, see my family and take them to some races.”
While Hand ended his tenure with BMW, which brought numerous victories and the 2011 ALMS GT championship, he’s landed one of the most coveted rides in the TUDOR Championship paddock with Ganassi and Ford, which takes on an increased role this year.
“For sure, the opportunity here with Ganassi and Ford, that was the big seller,” he said. “I’ve wanted to be on this program since I was a kid.
“Watching IndyCars at Laguna Seca, I always said I wanted to drive for Chip. I’ve known Mike Hull for a long time and had been in contact.
“When I finally got to race with them in 2011, it just solidified that I needed to be here [full-time] at some point.”
While having made four previous starts in Ganassi’s DP entry, it was Hand’s first outing with the team in 2011 which still stands out as one of the biggest accomplishments in his career, having won the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Four years later, and according to Hand, not much has changed within the organization, which has made the transition that much easier.
“When you walk into this program, I have enough history with just the [handful] of races I did with them, that I already feel like I know the program,” Hand said. “I don’t feel like the new guy. So there’s really nothing to prove here.”
What has changed has been the car, which has undergone aero and mechanical updates since he last drove it in 2013, not to mention a switch from BMW power to Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine.
“The car is actually better to drive but it’s not as different as I expected,” Hand admitted. “I thought it was going to be a lot more downforce but it’s now. It’s a very similar feel.
“The big difference is that we have paddle shift, traction control and you have a different type of engine. Driving a turbo engine is a little bit different than a naturally aspirated engine.
“There’s just differences, including carbon brakes. Even though I was doing carbon brakes in DTM, these react differently.
“The car is different but it’s still the fun car I remember driving here all the time. I enjoyed driving in the races I did with these guys in the past.”
When Hand has a “comfy” car, as he puts it, the competition knows to watch out, and with further updates to the EcoBoost package over the winter, the all-American effort could be tough to beat in 2015.
And one year on from the merger, Hand is also pleased with the feeling in the paddock, particularly with the arrival of some new machinery in the P class he and Pruett will have to do battle with this year.
“Right now I think it’s got a good vibe,” he said. “I don’t think we have as many cars but you don’t notice that in here. You still have the top teams.
“It’s cool to see some of the new P cars running here. I think it’s only going to go up from here and get better and better.”