After a one-year absence from the North American racing scene, Dirk Mueller is targeting class wins in his return to IMSA competition as part of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s factory effort with the new Ford GT.
The two-time American Le Mans Series champion, who has been reunited with his 2011 GT championship-winning co-driver Joey Hand, said he’s felt the chemistry with the manufacturer and team since first stepping foot into Ganassi’s Indianapolis facility.
“If you look at my past and my history, I’ve built up my career in the U.S., so I’m really honored to be back here,” Mueller told Sportscar365.
“Being part of the Chip Ganassi family feels really great. But to be honest, they made it really easy.
“From the first step I made into the building, I didn’t know any of those guys and they made it super simple. You feel home immediately.
“Talking about it actually gives me goosebumps. It’s really great.”
Mueller, who enjoyed a decade-plus-long career at BMW that’s stretched from WTCC to ALMS, ILMC and European GT racing, was among the first drivers to begin testing and development of the mid-engined super car late last year.
“My transition was really smooth and I have to thank BMW for that,” he said. “I was able to start early in the program. I’ve put some miles on the car already and we are really satisfied.”
While the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season marks a new chapter for the 40-year-old German, there’s still some familiarity within the program in terms of having Hand as co-driver.
The pairing, who spent three seasons together in the ALMS, amassed numerous victories and the 2011 GT title together, in what was considered one of the most successful lineups, both from a performance and chemistry standpoint.
“From the get-go at the first test, it’s been great,” Mueller said. “I know what he wants, he knows what I want.
“Our driving style is not the same because all drivers are a little different, but it’s very, very close. Now having Sebastien [Bourdais] on board [as third driver] is great.”
Mueller and the Ganassi squad head a bit into an unknown later month, in the car’s competition debut in one of the most challenging endurance races of the world.
While realistic expectations have been set, the German ace realizes the challenge that’s ahead.
“I think everybody wants to win and that’s why Chip Ganassi is winning so many races,” Mueller said. ‘But we know it’s a new car and a new time.
“The 24-hour race is always different. You need to have that kind of luck, that kind of fortune, like staying out of trouble.
“But where we are right now, we want to stand high and that’s our aim.”
As for the prospects of rekindling some of his past success in America, Mueller said it would be too early to call Ford favorites for the GTLM championship.
“It all has to come together,” he said. “There’s strong competition. From year to year, you say the competition is higher and higher and it’s the same now.
“I think you would be an idiot if you say we’re going to win the championship.
“The big honor is that we are considered one of the big challengers. I think the speed and everything is there. Now everything has to come together.
“We’re aiming high; we’re not here to lose. We’re here for wins. Let’s see where we end up.”