WATKINS GLEN - Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, co-drivers of the Chip Ganassi Racing/Ford Performance GT No. 67, arrived here this week riding a wave of momentum.
The sports car racing team is coming off a May 1 victory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event May 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.
The duo and their sister No. 66 Ford GT car featuring Joey Hand and Dirk Muller were busy Monday testing their GT Le Mans (GTLM) class entries in advance of the June 30-July 3 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen Weekend.
Ford returned to sports car competition in a big way after partnering with the Ganassi operation. In addition to a pair of cars in the North American-based IMSA, the team also fields Ford GT cars based in the United Kingdom that compete in the globetrotting World Endurance Championship.
The WEC entries feature another No. 67 entry co-driven by Marino Franchitti and Andy Priaulx and a second No 66, featuring Stefan Mucke and Oliver Pla.
While all four Ford GT cars will compete in the WEC 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, only the two that tested Monday will compete in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
Westbrook, a sports car racing veteran from London, has taken the overall victory in the last two Six Hours of The Glen, albeit in the faster Prototype class Visit Florida Racing.com entry. During this past offseason Westbrook joined the Ford camp. This year: different car, different division, different team and new tire combination on the repaved Glen track.
While an overall victory in the Sahlen’s race is unlikely, Westbrook and Briscoe are among the favorites for a win in the separate GTLM class.
“This will be very different,” Westbrook said. “I had two really good years here with the Visit Florida Racing.com team. I am in a different class and in a completely different car and the track here is a lot different now.
“I had a few laps this morning and it’s quick-really quick. When people get here for the first time come race weekend it’s going to raise some eyebrows when they get out for their first lap. They’ve done an incredible job. Everyone loves this track. Everyone is going to love it a bit more now.”
The No. 67 team took victory in Laguna Seca in just its fourth IMSA event of the 2016 WeatherTech season. Briscoe started the car and turned it over to Westbrook. In what turned out to be a fuel mileage race, Westbrook, driving in fuel-conservation mode, held the lead to the finish despite making the final pit stop with 1 hour and 17 minutes left in the two-hour race.
“They were coaching me on the radio,” said Westbrook. “They were telling me what fuel number would be good but I didn’t know if people were coming but they seemed calm on the radio and that kept me calm inside.”
When Westbrook drove the Visit Florida Racing.com Prototype in past years, by rule that class must use spec Continental Tires. In GTLM, multiple tire manufacturers are allowed. Ford utilizes the Michelin Tire brand.
“The Michelins are a development tire so they have a lot more grip,” Westbrook said. “The Continental tires were the spec tires that were built to suit everyone so this is completely different and just one of the new things I’m encountering this year.”
Briscoe is a sports car racing veteran who is better known for his exploits behind the wheel of an Indy Car.
“We were hoping to win the first IMSA race of this season, the 24 Hours of Daytona, but big picture in sight, it’s a brand new program with brand new cars,” Briscoe said. “It’s been a lot of work from everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing and Ford Performance. It’s been a battle.
“I did a lot of Indy Car racing here at The Glen but I’ve only been here once before in a sports car,” said Briscoe, a native of Sydney, Australia. “Honestly, it’s my favorite track. It’s even going to be quicker now with the new pavement.”
Briscoe’s sports car endeavor with Ford has put his Indy Car Series driving on the back burner. He will not drive later this month in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
“There were opportunities actually but with the Le Mans schedule and all the testing we have this month and my other commitments I have with Ford, we decided that it was best to sit it out this year ,which is painful for me,” he said. “I would really love to be at Indy but this takes priority and I’m excited for this opportunity.”
Westbrook likes the way the Ford GT project is progressing and what the teams have accomplished in short time.
“You have a development curve with the car,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been very high profile. We go to Le Mans next month just before we come here for the Six Hour race just on the back of a victory at Laguna. Everything is heading in the right direction.”
Hamburg native and WGI president Michael Printup was present at the test this past Monday and issued a prediction about the new pavement. “We’ve been racing on the new surface for the last month with competition clubs and so on. Now IMSA and NASCAR are testing here this week. My opinion and my guess is that we’re going to break some speed records here this season. That will be fun.”