Following an entertaining and dramatic opening race of the season in Australia yesterday, NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett dissect the race from Albert Park and pick out some of the memorable moments.
Since winning its first Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2006, Chip Ganassi Racing has never been absent more than two consecutive years from victory lane in the 11 years since. Overall wins have followed in 2007, 2008, and then again in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
This being an odd-numbered year, and with the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team expanding back to four Ford GTs as it did at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last summer, hopes are high within the Ganassi camp that it will now add the Rolex 24 with the Ford GT to its win list.
After last year, the new car debuted with a litany of mechanical errors, few of which were forecast after a thorough and comprehensive testing program in the buildup. It was a brutal start to the program but one which was quickly eradicated.
But the car obviously improved from a reliability standpoint and just a few months after its debut in Daytona, had achieved its first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before dominating at Le Mans.
The Ford Ganassi crew is leaving no doubt of its desire to topple the rest of the GT Le Mans field at this year’s Rolex 24. With the four-car entry – two Multimatic-run, Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK entries from the FIA World Endurance Championship joining the two full-season IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entries – the team and manufacturer has double the number of cars of any other manufacturer within the 11-car class.
As such, with only two Corvette C7.Rs, two BMW M6 GTLMs, two of the new debuting Porsche 911 RSRs and a single Ferrari 488 GTE, the odds are firmly in Ganassi’s favor. The car was also top of the heap at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.
A Ford GT win too would also accomplish the feat of ending Corvette Racing’s two-year run, and stopping the manufacturer from a three-peat with its incredibly well-oiled machine.
“Having all four cars here in Daytona is really great, as some might say safety in numbers, but truthfully it’s a huge advantage to be able to test a range of different set ups,” explained Richard Westbrook, who shares the No. 67 Ford with Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.
Joey Hand, whose eventual career shift from BMW to Ford and Ganassi saw the seeds planted when he was part of Ganassi’s 2011 overall victory, added the sheer volume of capacity from Ganassi is something to behold.
“Well, it feels like Le Mans now, it’s the first time we have had all of the cars competing together since the win at Le Mans,” said Hand, who won Le Mans with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais; the trio will share the No. 66 Ford. “Obviously having four cars really ups the odds for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing to have a win here at Daytona.”
The wild cards for Ganassi on U.S. soil among the quartet of GTs are the two European-based entries, all of whom are high on outright talent but not as high on formal Daytona experience. Stefan Muecke, Olivier Pla, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell have a handful of Rolex starts between them and surprisingly, this marks Tincknell’s Daytona debut.
“It’s going to be amazing. Obviously at (the back-to-back IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/FIA World Endurance Championship races at) COTA, it was great to hook up and use the IMSA guys to give us information because their race was before ours, which helped us a lot,” Priaulx, who shares the No. 69 Ford with Tincknell and Tony Kanaan, explained.
“Now having four cars working toward one goal gives us all a more positive chance to try and win one of the best races in the world. I think it’s great for Ford to commit to this race in such a big way. It shows the dedication and passion to win. That’s something that’s very important to me as a driver. It motivates you when you see that sort of commitment coming in. Hopefully we can deliver for Ford and everybody at Ganassi.”
It might be Billy Johnson who helps this group the most. One of only two Americans in Ford’s 12-driver lineup, Johnson was instrumental in the test and development work of the Ford GT and has been rewarded for his efforts with a place on board. Unfortunately for him, despite winning the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge championship last year, his new Platinum rating has affected his ability to defend that title. Nonetheless, with a mix of both car and Daytona experience in his pocket, Johnson is the under-the-radar ace in the hole that could emerge a star in the stacked GTLM class.
“Just before Christmas I was doing more development work on the Ford GT and running some more in Mustangs. I was definitely staying busy for Ford,” said Johnson, who is the No. 68 Ford with Pla and Muecke. “(It’s been) a lot of working out. Running and eating right and just making sure I’m in good condition for putting in the best performance I can at the race.”
Johnson’s one of the four “extra” drivers as you were, and the only full-time sports car driver among them. Bourdais and Dixon have easily acclimated to the Ford GT, while Kanaan looks forward to his debut in the twin-turbo, EcoBoost V6 beast. Bourdais and Dixon are past overall winners at the Rolex 24 and look to add class wins to their resumes.
“We had so little experience and starting the year and career of the car with a 24-hour race was like asking, ‘Hey, how much harder could we make it?'” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “Overall it was a painful experience because it didn’t go anywhere near what we wanted, which makes Le Mans even more remarkable.
“To be honest the oddball was Daytona because we never suffered that many problems. It all gathered for Daytona and it was like, what is going on? How is this possible? We ran… not problem-free, but ran a lot of laps without problems in testing. It was so weird. But then running four cars with no major problems at Le Mans was a testament to the performance.”
Dixon added to NBC Sports, “With a car like this you have a bit more leg room and things to try. Different development pieces. I’m not so immersed in the program. But for me, it’s coming to do some miles and make sure I can help everything run smooth.
“Winning here in 2006 and 2015 is huge, because it’s such a tough race to get everything race. Many times we’ve been in the hunt and the sister car has won when we haven’t. It’s a different style of race. It’s great for team building, learning setups.
“As far as races go, there’s key ones you want to win. Daytona is definitely on that list.”
Ford’s winning legacy at Daytona includes six overall triumphs, including the first 24-hour race at Daytona in 1966 with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby in a Ford GT40 Mk. II.
“We’re ready to get this second season started with Ford GT,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “We walked away from last year happy with what we were able to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean the job’s done. The team did a great job preparing in the very short off-season and we believe we’re prepared to compete for championships in 2017.”
Ganassi added, “Overall, when you look back at 2016, I would say ‘mission accomplished’ when it came to debuting this program with Ford. We won races, competed for the championship in both IMSA and WEC and of course won in Le Mans. Like any new program, you’re going to have some growing pains as we did here in Daytona but we have worked through all of those and finished 2016 strong. This year is a totally different scenario. Not only do we have four cars instead of two, we also have a 24-hour win under our belts and a season’s worth of experiences with this car. I can’t wait to see what this year’s race brings.”
Newly-appointed Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey has set his sights on expanding race weekend events and turning each race into its own Super Bowl-style event.
Carey was appointed F1 chairman back in September before becoming CEO on Monday following the completion of Liberty Media’s takeover of the series.
Long-standing CEO Bernie Ecclestone resigned from his role to make way for Carey, who will run F1 alongside commercial chief Sean Bratches and ex-Ferrari and Benetton technical boss Ross Brawn.
Carey confirmed on Tuesday that the decision to change F1’s management structure was sparked by Liberty’s belief that the series had not reached its full growth potential in recent years.
Speaking on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Carey identified sponsorship as being a key area where F1 could grow quickly, as well as stressing the need to increase the show surrounding race weekends, drawing a comparison to the Super Bowl.
“The one that grows the fastest is sponsorship,” Carey said when asked about revenue streams.
“Right now we have a one-man sponsorship [team]. There are many categories we’re not selling into. We have signage we’re not selling. We need to execute on that.
“The opportunity in the event side is to make our events bigger, broader. We have 21 events… we need 21 Super Bowls.
“Realistically, they should be weeklong extravaganzas with music and activity, not just at the track. Over time the goal is to grow that dimension.”
Carey also wants to harness the popularity and global awareness of F1’s star drivers, identifying Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen as two of the sport’s top names that need to be more accessible to fans.
“We have great stars. Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, an 18-year-old who broke out,” Carey said.
“We have wonderful stars, incredible cars. We have to create the vehicles to allow the fans to connect to them.”
Liberty’s arrival as F1’s new owner has led to much speculation that it is set to expand the sport’s presence in the United States, a market that has traditionally proven difficult to crack.
Currently there is just one annual grand prix held in the United States, taking place at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, but Carey wants to bring F1 to some of America’s biggest cities.
“The U.S. is a real opportunity for us. There’s real upside for us in the U.S. market,” Carey said.
“We want destination cities: Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas. That way, people would come to for a weeklong event.”
Recently-appointed Formula 1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey says that the series’ failure to grow to its full potential in recent years led to the decision to change its management structure, as announced on Monday.
Former CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s 40-year stint at the helm of the sport came to an end on Monday night when he tendered his resignation, moving aside for Carey to become CEO. Ecclestone has been given the role of ‘chairman emeritus’.
Carey’s arrival comes following the completion of Liberty Media’s acquisition of F1 in a deal worth more than $8 billion.
Liberty announced on Monday that Carey would be joined by ex-ESPN marketing chief Sean Bratches and former Ferrari and Benetton technical boss Ross Brawn, creating a triumvirate to run F1.
“We looked at the business, and felt over the past four to five years the business and sport had not grown to its full potential,” Carey told Sky Sports on Tuesday.
“We needed to put a new organization in place to be able to grow the sport in today’s world in the way it needs to grow, and in some ways work with the partners we have in the business to make sure we can make the sport everything it can and should be for its fans.
“Both Sean and Ross will have critically important roles in developing the sport overall. Ross brings decades-long experience of incredible success in the sport.
“From Ross’s perspective, what we want to do is make sure we make the sport on the track everything it can and should be; make it as exciting as possible for the fans, as energizing as it can be for its fans.
“It’s a great sport today. It’s got drivers that are iconic stars. It has cars that combine power and technology in a way that truly amazes people and a brand that has fans around the world.”
It seemed a matter of when, not if, Bernie Ecclestone’s days running Formula 1 on a day-to-day basis would end once Liberty Media Corporation acquired the sport.
Monday provided the formal confirmation, with Chase Casey installed as CEO of Formula 1 in addition to his existing duties as chairman. Meanwhile Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches have been named to Managing Director positions of Motor Sports and Commercial Operations, respectively.
Reactions to the news have began, and are linked below.
Newly crowned World Champion Nico Rosberg thanked Ecclestone, while noting a change has been “overdue.”
Romain Grosjean of Haas F1 Team posted his thoughts:
Zak Brown, new executive director for the McLaren Technology Group and seemingly, perpetually rumored as a replacement for Ecclestone, called him a “very hard act to follow.”
Circuit of The Americas, the new home track for Formula 1 in the United States, also offered sincere thanks.
Other key figures in F1 and the racing world have weighed in:
What are your thoughts? Was this the right time for a change? Weigh in via the poll below, or in the comments.