ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The remaining extra drivers for the four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans are highly likely to be announced next week.
A team spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports that it’s likely the early part of next week will see the remaining drivers picked for the June 18-19 race, once Ford finalizes its plans in partnership with the team.
Team principal Chip Ganassi didn’t drop any hints of who on Saturday during a media availability with select reporters at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but did tease that it likely won’t be too much of a surprise.
“You can probably guess,” Ganassi said.
The eight confirmed drivers for the four Ford GTs – which will compete in the GTE-Pro category of the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship – are all full-season drivers.
The WEC quartet of Olivier Pla, Andy Priaulx, Marino Franchitti and Stefan Muecke with the IMSA quartet of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe set to join. All full-season lineups will stay in their same car at Le Mans.
While not formally confirmed beyond the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring next week, Sebastien Bourdais is highly likely to be nominated as one of the third drivers as well in what would mark his return to Le Mans for the first time since 2012, then driving with the Pescarolo team. Bourdais has three overall runner-up finishes but no victories at the track where not far from where he grew up.
Scott Dixon is also a strong and highly rumored candidate for one of the seats, and the Verizon IndyCar Series champion hopes to know officially either way soon.
If Dixon gets the call, he’d need to figure out the logistics of making it happen, although it’s possible to do so.
As a Platinum-rated driver by the FIA, he is exempt from Le Mans Test Day participation on June 5 even as a Le Mans rookie. That date is the same date at which point IndyCar races its second of two races in Detroit.
He’d need to, however, be on a plane immediately after the Saturday night race at Texas on June 11 to ensure he’d get to Le Mans in time for scrutineering (downtown technical inspection) on Sunday, June 12. Scrutineering runs for two days, and teams have their photo shoot and other scrutineering activities only one of the two days.
He’d also have to complete simulator training to learn the track and safety procedures. This was done by NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell last April, for instance, as he made his Le Mans debut (and will make his return this year with Scuderia Corsa in the same Ferrari F458 Italia) last year.
Ganassi’s other IndyCar drivers – Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton – all have limited sports car experience but seem less likely to be in the frame as it stands. Kanaan told me in January he’d go wherever Ganassi tells him to and would love to if asked, while Chilton has said on multiple occasions that while any Ford GT chance would be a good one, he has unfinished business in LMP1 after his Nissan GT-R LM NISMO experience last year, his maiden Le Mans race, was far from an ideal debut. Kimball’s name has not been mentioned in regards to the Le Mans seat.
Ganassi did say that having drivers from his other programs – be it IndyCar or NASCAR – does add a cachet to sports car races the team competes in.
“Back in the era when I did it, it was a good thing,” he said. “That’s a better question for the drivers really.
“It helps, obviously. Do I want to have IndyCar drivers in sports cars or stock car in sports car? Not really.
“But with successful ones, it brings cachet. A Dixon, (Dario) Franchitti, (Kyle) Larson, (Jamie) McMurray… and you bring it to that, it brings cachet.
“Anytime you have winners, it brings cachet to sports cars.”