The full-season Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team took its first FIA World Endurance Championship win at Fuji, with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the No. 67 Ford GT.
The British duo led a Ford 1-2 in GTE-Pro in Japan, in what was the Ford program’s second WEC win but first for the UK-based full-season team, following the 24 Hours of Le Mans victory for the IMSA-based No. 68 car.
“We’ve had to wait a while now to get this one in the bag, but it was a good one,” Priaulx told Sportscar365. “It was a good, hard race, and we had a really good battle with the No. 66.
“I think it was two seconds for most of the race, really. We had a real good scrap and it was very rewarding for us and the team to get that one in such a dominant way.”
This also marks the Guernsey driver’s first WEC win, whose previous 51 victories have largely come from the British, European and World Touring Car Championships.
“It was the 52nd race win of my career, but it was my first in WEC,” he said. “I’ve obviously only been in WEC for year. I’ve won in IMSA and Sebring, but in WEC this is my first one for me, so that’s special.
“We’ve had to wait three-quarters of the way through the year but I had no doubt that it was going to come. I didn’t doubt that for a minute.
“I was just really pleased that me and Harry were able to get the first one for Ford GT Team UK, and that was special really for everyone in the team.”
So far this season, the No. 67 car has suffered from a run of bad luck, and so the breakthrough win at Fuji is a welcome turn of events for Priaulx.
“Going to Le Mans, we were second in the championship, and it’s such huge points that if you have a DNF at Le Mans, you’re right on the back foot,” he said.
“We went to the Nürburgring with positive spirits, but we had an issue in the pits with the fire. We’ve just been unlucky.
“The team is very very strong and everything is right. The team is right, the car is right, but we’re doing a lot of our learning in public.”
The No. 67 Ford was the last car in GTE-Pro to drop back to a two-driver lineup, as most of its competitors had dropped its third driver after Le Mans.
This has proven to be the “go-to” strategy, as it allows each driver to have more seat time in weekends that already have quite short free practice time.
Marino Franchitti had been part of the No. 67 car for the full season up to Japan, but the team elected to run just Priaulx and Tincknell for the final three rounds of the season.
“You could put three Formula 1 world champions in the car, and two Formula 1 World Champions would always be better in that format,” Priaulx explained. “It’s just time in the cockpit, for everyone really.
“Obviously Marino is a really great friend of mine, and I missed him personally, but in a selfish way, yes it was just more seat time and one less variable. It’s really sad because he’s a good pal of mine and I’m going to miss him.
“From that perspective, it’s not great, but unfortunately for him it must have been really hard because we went out and won it.
“The car was just very quick on that track, and that whole circuit suited us. Obviously, for me and for Harry, any extra seat time is only going to be great for your lap time really.”
With only Shanghai and Bahrain left on the schedule, Priaulx is hoping for more success at the final two rounds of the season, and is hoping the Balance of Performance isn’t changed too much.
“I kind of hope nothing changes there,” he said. “You’ve got to look at it over the whole year really. The Aston was on another planet in Mexico, but it was very difficult to perform this weekend.
“There are so many factors that influence the ultimate pace of the car, whether it’s tires, circuit, the characteristics of the car on that particular circuit.
“I think Shanghai and Bahrain, from what I’m told, will be potentially quite good for us. The Ferrari is very strong, the Aston has proved to be massively competitive.
“We got lapped in Nürburgring and we got lapped in Mexico. We didn’t lap any of the rest of the field this weekend. I still want to win the last two races.”