Ford GT, Alegra Porsche, Performance Tech secure Rolex 24 class wins

Photo courtesy IMSA

While Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R won the marquee Prototype class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, two of the other three competing classes had exciting finishes as well in the 24-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway:

In GTLM, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 66 Ford GT brought home the checkered flag with Dirk Mueller behind the wheel, who teamed with Joey Hand and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais.

Mueller held off the 911 Porsche GT Team’s Porsche 911 RSR, anchored by Patrick Pilet, winning by a 2.988-second margin.

“This is a stressful race,” Hand said. “You’ve got to be on your game. This race is all about the people we have behind us, the guys and gals for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Look what we did in one year. The first race (in the Ford GT) was one year ago with this car and look at what we’ve did in one year. We won Le Mans since then and now we’ve won Daytona.

“We did what we needed to do. Dirk was the man at the end, was in a tough situation and got it done. Thanks to my German brother from another mother (Mueller), he pulled through and it’s all over here.”

Added Bourdais, “I just couldn’t be any more prouder of these guys, Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s unbelievable the job (Mueller) did at the end to make it stick.”

In GTD, it was both a comeback and an anniversary for Alegra Motorsports. Team owner Carlos de Quesada won the Rolex 10 years ago. Sunday, de Quesada, along with son Michael, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and anchor driver Michael Christensen came from behind to win in their No. 28 Porsche 911 GT3 R.

The 28 held off a strong last lap challenge, defeating the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 by a mere 0.293 seconds.

“It was quite exciting,” Christensen told Fox Sports. “We hadn’t been in the lead until the last hour, but that was all according to plan.

“Obviously it’s difficult to make that plan happen in such a long and tough race, but I had to take some deep breaths the last few laps and last caution as well just to keep everything intact and keep focus on. … It was quite intense.

Morad thanked Carlos de Quesada for bringing him onto the team and giving him his first career Rolex start.

“Two years ago, I wasn’t racing,” Morad said. “(Carlos de Quesada) believed in a young driver lineup. It’s only fitting the last hour of the race ended like that.

“This whole thing has been a dream. Allegra won this race 10 years ago. This is the 10-year anniversary. Carlos was running with his son. … Just all Cup champions from the IMSA Development Series. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Lastly, in the five-car Prototype Challenge field, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 – anchored in the final segments by Nicholas Boulle – cruised to an easy victory.

The No. 38 – which also included drivers James French, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Masson – finished 22 laps ahead of its closest rival, the No. 26 Oreca FLM09 of BAR1 Motorsports.

NOTES: Sunday’s win in GTD marked the 77th class win for Porsche in the Rolex 24, while the GTLM win earned Ford its 27th class win.

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”