After four years in a Corvette DP, Richard Westbrook returns to his GT roots in 2016, with the Englishman having been confirmed as one of the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship full-season drivers for Chip Ganassi Racing’s new Ford GT program.
Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe will share the No. 67 Ford GT next season, and in a weird coincidence, it’s the last two third drivers from Corvette Racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans program now paired up together in a Blue Oval.
For Westbrook, who has been keen to return to GT machinery for a fair bit of time, he’s both relieved and rejuvenated to have the opportunity to be a part of Ford’s top line return to sports car racing.
“It’s been a huge relief obviously to get this out,” Westbrook told Sportscar365. “It is a big deal, announcing it here at Ford Championship Weekend.
“It’s been difficult keeping it quiet, especially being in the car this week. It’s been out there. But I’m absolutely delighted. It feels kind of real now. Before, it felt surreal.
“GT is where I’ve spent most of my sports car career. It does feel like I’m going back home.”
Westbrook was among the contingent of Ford GT drivers who tested this past week at Daytona in unofficial form, but has actually been very busy with the program over the last month.
Rumors began to float around Petit Le Mans weekend that Westbrook, who was in contention for the TUDOR Championship Prototype title at the same time, could be shifting back to GT, with his name linked to the Ford GT program.
A tweet from Ganassi managing director Mike Hull the day after the race only seemed to add fuel to the fire as it read, “Really impressed by @RWestbrook1 wet driving clinic at the front end of #PetitLeMan – untouchable & flawless when he held the 90-car wheel.”
Indeed Westbrook’s test at Daytona was his third with the program, having also been part of tests at Sebring and Homestead as part of a hectic month-plus in Florida.
“We’d been doing a bit of testing before, some at Sebring, endurance testing in Homestead… so it has been really busy since Petit Le Mans,” Westbrook said.
“But that’s the way it is, as you’d expect. We have a new car with a lot to do. Performance-wise, it’s absolutely fantastic.”
As he’s shifting from Prototype back to GT Le Mans, Westbrook said the speed differential between the classes he noticed at Daytona this week seemed to be about where it should be.
The return to GT Le Mans also sees a bigger manufacturer pool compared to the Prototype ranks, and has Westbrook salivating at the prospects for 2016.
“It’s a mouth-watering prospect given the number of manufacturers involved,” he said. “I’m really excited to work with Michelin again, and with going back to Le Mans.
“And in IMSA, you’ve got Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and BMW… and it’s great that Ford is back to sports car racing, in general. You know how significant it is.”
Westbrook has also already hailed the working environment within Chip Ganassi Racing, and among his teammates, and even though it’s early days yet he said it’s not just lip service.
“It almost feels like we’ve known each other for a while… and to be honest, we have for a long time,” he said. “We had a fishing trip with the crew and the other drivers. I’m getting the sense of how Chip is setting things up.”
For Westbrook, who’s driven with a number of marquee teams over his career, he fully appreciates and understands the magnitude of what it means to join Ganassi’s championship-winning outfit, in partnership with Ford and Multimatic.
“Ever since I’ve been young, I’ve known about Chip Ganassi Racing,” Westbrook said. “It’s the biggest name; him and Penske are the biggest teams in America.
“There’s not many people that could run this program with these expectations; that have the organization and the ability to pull it off.
“We’re going into something completely new, with competition that’s been here four to five, if not 10 years. That’s what we have in Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s a goal of mine to race with the best teams out there. Right now, I’m with that team.”