Joey Hand says he feels ‘better than ever’ in returning to racing after overcoming an illness that forced the Ford GT driver on the sidelines for nearly two months.
The 2016 Le Mans class winner makes his racing return in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans after missing the Long Beach and Mid-Ohio IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rounds due to a two a double viral infection.
For Hand, sitting at home watching his Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entry being driven by the team’s endurance driver, Sebastien Bourdais, was a “challenging” experience for the 40-year-old Californian.
“It’s been a long time since that happened to me, when I missed a race for any reason,” Hand told Sportscar365.
“The last time was when I broke my back in Toyota Atlantic, and Buddy Rice subbed for me, and I watched my car go around. Since then, you’re always in the car.
“It’s kind of cliché, but it kind of makes the fire burn a little more.
“You go through, you do it every weekend, sometimes you take things for granted. You’re flying around the world, doing cool stuff, you sit next to people like ‘Oh you drive race cars, that’s cool.’
“Yeah it’s cool, but you remember when you can’t do it, how cool it is.
“That was a big thing, watching, and just wanting to be better, wanting to come back stronger and all that.”
Hand resumed his fitness regime shortly after last month’s Mid-Ohio race and also began karting with his son, Chase, in what he described as “normal preparation” for Le Mans.
“The karting thing is probably the best preparation because you’re doing the same thing,” he said.
“For me, it was killing two birds with one stone because I was driving my son, dogfighting with him, trying to teach him how to race and at the same time, I’m getting some good race practice as well.
“I feel better [than ever], I swear, man. I don’t know, it’s kind of weird but maybe a little break helps.
“More so, just a little more getting sleep, and that’s what I’m doing, just focusing on sleeping and hydration. I’ve just become a lot better at drinking water.”
Second Le Mans Win Would Be “Icing on the Cake”
Hand said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure this weekend, as he Bourdais and Dirk Mueller seek their second class win in the final factory outing for the Multimatic-built machines at Le Mans.
Out of the four Ford ‘Celebration’ liveries, Hand, Mueller and Bourdais’ No. 68 entry is sporting the same design that took them to GTE-Pro class victory in 2016, in the Blue Oval’s race return.
“For us, Dirk and Sea Bass and I talk about it, to be driving a livery that is a throwback of your own win is kind of a big deal for us, and pretty damn cool, so I’m excited for that,” Had said.
“We’d love to win, obviously, but to be the guys that won already, it puts us in a good position to not have the pressure to necessarily need to try and win one, but possibly win a second one, would be the icing on the cake.
“I felt really good at the test, I felt good about the car, how it was balanced. The driving of the car was as good or better than we had in 2016.
“In the last couple of years, we kind of just missed on setup and really struggled with understeer and stuff like that, but I really liked the car in the test.
“I left home for this trip, for this race week, I told my family, because my son always asks ‘What kind of feeling do you got?’, I said I’ve got a good feeling.
“I still have a good feeling.”