Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

Rolex 24 Grand Marshal Chip Ganassi on verge of 200th overall career win as team owner

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The boys are back in town and they’re ready for some serious racing action this weekend.

That best describes Ford Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Saturday’s 56th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Not only are defending GTLM winners Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais back to defend their 2017 Rolex 24 title in the No. 66 Ford GT, team owner Chip Ganassi will be Rolex royalty, serving as Grand Marshal for the event.

And if that’s not all, Ganassi – who has been coming to Daytona since first serving as a crew member in 1985 – is going for his 200th overall race win as a team owner across all platforms he’s been involved in over his career, including IMSA, IndyCar, WEC and NASCAR.

Chip Ganassi goes for his 200th career win as a team owner in this weekend’s Rolex 24. (Photo: IMSA via LAT)

He’s also seeking his third overall Rolex win, having previously done so in both Prototype and GTLM.

“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is always a special race to me, not only because it signifies the beginning of the racing season but more importantly because of the magnitude of the event itself,” Ganassi said. “There are few races in the world that capture the imagination of race fans everywhere as well as the automotive industry and the Rolex is one of them.

“It also has a diverse group or manufacturers and drivers alike and when you win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, you know you have accomplished something special.”

 

The No. 66 will start Saturday’s 24-hour endurance race second in the GTLM class, just missing the top qualifying spot by 19/100ths of a second. It was on the pole for last year’s race.

“How cool would it be if we could win this thing for Chip’s 200th win after he gives us the call to start our engines?,” Hand said. “That would be something, for sure.

“In the history of Chip Ganassi Racing, they’ve always had good race cars at Daytona, so I think we have another good shot at it. Last year it came down to six or seven cars at the finish, so really it’s a no-mistakes race. You have to be clean for 24 hours. We spent a lot of time at Roar trying to make a good race car and obviously we did pretty well because we had the quickest lap.”

The No. 66 was the quickest in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 three weeks ago, while the No. 67 was third-quickest, giving them first and third choices of garage/pit space.

“The key for us on the No. 66 team is to always make a good race car, because you have to have a car you can put in position,” Hand said. “Sometimes you have to pass on the inside, sometimes on the outside. It has to be a good overall race car you can place anywhere. Hopefully we get back to the race and have a good car like we left the Roar with.”

Meanwhile, the No. 67 of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon will start fifth in the nine-car class (it finished 10th in last year’s Rolex), having qualified with a time of 1:43:091. The team was the No. 2 qualifier for last year’s race.

“Daytona is unique and like no other track we race on,” driver Richard Westbrook said. “It’s all about a compromise of top speed on the straight to get through the traffic and carrying enough downforce to help you through the infield.

“To turn consistent quick laps, you have to be quick through the infield but also make the passes on the straight, otherwise your laps are ruined following slower traffic through the infield.”

Added Briscoe, “I think last year was a really strong performance for our cars. “We had really good pace and we proved that we could win the race.

“I think we come into this year feeling fairly confident that we have done what we can to prepare, but there are so many unknowns. We have a lot of experience with the equipment and race, but it’s always a tough one. It’s a 24-hour race and a lot can, and will, happen. We just have to trust our preparation.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.