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Johnson: “Being the Only American Driver with Ford WEC is Special”

Billy Johnson excited for Ford GT drive in early-season WEC races…

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford

Billy Johnson is proud to be flying the stars and stripes, as the only American driver in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s FIA World Endurance Championship operation gears up for his European sports car racing debut.

The 29-year-old California native will be taking part in the opening three rounds of the championship, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the No. 66 Ford GT alongside Olivier Pla and Stefan Muecke.

For Johnson, who has played a major part in development of the Multimatic-built car, the chance to race with the factory Ford program, on a global stage, is a dream come true.

“It means the world to me,” Johnson told Sportscar365. “It’s definitely a historic moment for Ford to be returning to Le Mans and to be doing the WEC season.

“To be the only American in one of the two WEC cars is a very, very special thing.”

Johnson, a standout driver for Ford and Multimatic in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, received the nod earlier this month to be part of the manufacturer’s four-car effort for Le Mans.

It was then later determined that he’d also be added to the No. 66 car lineup for both the Six Hours of Silverstone and Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, as well as this week’s Prologue pre-season test at Paul Ricard, in preparation for the French endurance classic.

“This is definitely a big step and it’s an honor to be racing in the WEC, in the top level of sports car racing globally,” he said.

“To be able to do it with Ford, who I’ve been driving with for many years now, not only on the race car side of things but helping develop the street products…

“It’s great to be able to compete at this level against some very, very good drivers and race teams. I’m excited for it and up for the challenge.”

While it marks a steep learning curve for Johnson, largely in getting acclimated with new tracks, it’s also uncharted territory for the Blue Oval, which is undertaking an ambitious dual-championship program.

Ganassi’s Indianapolis-based squad gave the Ford GT its competition debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, followed by last weekend’s Twelve Hours of Sebring and will complete the remainder of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a UK-based satellite operation, headed up by Multimatic’s George Howard-Chappell, is taking on the WEC and the two teams will combine for the four-car effort at Le Mans.

“The whole program is one big group,” Johnson said. “We’re Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK. But all of the information is being shared.

“So everything learned at Daytona and Sebring, in terms of reliability, performance and improvement is obviously just more data points to help the overall effort and vice-versa.

“What we learn at this test and what we learn at Silverstone and Spa is going to help the overall program because the goal is to have the best result we can at Le Mans.

“The more races, the more cars acquiring data further helps prepare the entire group effort for Le Mans.

“This is a brand-new car, brand-new teams… Brand-new everything. Definitely, the more you can run, the better.”

With nearly 15 test days under his belt, Johnson is considered to be one of the most experienced Ford GT drivers, having carried out the bulk of the development work alongside Scott Maxwell.

He’s had nothing but positive remarks about the GTE contender, which makes its European public debut this weekend at Paul Ricard.

“It’s just a really, really great car to drive,” Johnson said. “There’s no real quirks or tricks about it.

“I’m looking forward to working with everybody and help the team progress forward as best I can.”

While only confirmed for the first three rounds, Johnson hasn’t completely ruled out the possibility of being called back for additional WEC races later in the year, should there be an opportunity.

“Nothing is set in stone,” he said. “Originally it was [just] Le Mans. Then it was doing the two races to prepare, and I’m over the moon about that.

“What I’ve been told is the plan so far, but if things do change and if I’m offered the opportunity to race in more events post-Le Mans, I’d be very excited about that.

“But for now, I’m focusing on what’s been presented to me and the job I need to do right now. We’ll see when the time comes.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Larry

    March 24, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Good for him.

    He is very deserving of this shot and I wish him well even though I own Porsches and pull for them.

    Still would not mind if the Ford GT with Billy Johnson onboard won LeMans.

  2. David Chaste

    March 24, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Chip Ganassi and multimatic were able to pry George howard Chapel from Aston Martin? No doubt he the lurred Stefan Mucke to leave with him. I remember Aston Martin making an announcement that Darren Turner had a contract extension. So maybe Howard-Chapel tried to woo him as well to Ford and David Richards pulled out all the stops to keep him.

    Aston martin has not won lemans since 2008. Too focused on their gentleman driver programs. Doesnt hurt to take a chance with a newcomer.

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