Olivier Pla says that a “good vibe” has been instilled at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing following his landmark first Ford victory alongside co-drivers Stefan Muecke and Billy Johnson in Saturday’s Total Six Hours of Spa.
The Frenchman brought home the No. 66 Ford to a 13-second margin over the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre, marking the first wins for all three drivers with the Multimatic-run squad.
It came in both Pla and Muecke’s third year of competition with the mid-engined car, following ups and downs throughout.
“Last year was a difficult season for us,” Pla told Sportscar365. “The pace was there but unfortunately we always had small niggles all the time that would destroy our races when we were in a position to win.
“Now we have the first win, the good feeling is definitely there. It is a good vibe.”
Pla said that he needed to look after his tires during a frantic final stint, which saw the Ford driver overtake an ailing Richard Lietz in the No. 91 Porsche 45 minutes from the end.
After exiting the final round of stops in second and with a fresh set of left-side Michelin tires, Pla ate into Lietz’s advantage and overtook the Porsche driver with a daring move at Raidillon.
He then managed the gap to Christensen in the No. 92 Porsche behind while Lietz dropped back to fourth in the final reckoning.
“I knew the No. 91 didn’t change tires and I had two tires, but the No. 92 also had two tires,” said Pla.
“I had to pass him [Lietz] as soon as I could. It was a fair fight I think. I was inside him into Raidillon and Richard was next to me. He was fighting hard but always fair.
“After that, I tried to concentrate to build the gap and not make any mistakes. I was pushing and trying to keep my tires alive at the same time.
“The car was perfect at the end and I have to thank the team for that.”
Christensen: Porsche “Missed a Bit” on Straights
Christensen says Porsche lacked the edge on straight-line speed to Ford as it picked up a pair of top-five finishes.
The Danish driver also said a potential challenge for victory was thwarted by traffic during the final stint.
The No. 92 car recovered from a drive-through penalty for spinning its wheels in the pits and also had to have part of its front bodywork replaced after Christensen ran over a chunk of debris following Harry Tinckell’s heavy second-hour crash.
“In the corners, we did well,” Christensen told Sportscar365, “But we missed a little bit to the Fords on the straights I think.
“I’m sure that they were a little better, obviously we’ll go over it in detail, but that’s what it looked like most of today.
“At the end I had to come back and was going well but then traffic was a disaster. I hate to say it, but we were really unlucky with the traffic in the last five laps. At that point it was over. That was it.
“But looking at how the race went without taking all the weird things that happened – we can be happy with our performance heading to Le Mans.”