DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the GT Le Mans class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship returns to Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park for Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech Northeast Grand Prix, the question is: can anyone stop Ford Chip Ganassi Racing?
This will be the first race for America’s premier GT division at the 1.5-mile circuit since 2013 – when the class competed as part of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón – and first as part of the WeatherTech Championship.
The Ford GT is riding a three-race winning streak in the class, capturing recent events at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park with the No. 67 of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe.
The team also fields the No. 66 of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand, who won the GTE Pro class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
“There’s nothing’s like Lime Rock: it’s completely unique,” Westbrook said. “I’ve got fond memories there. My love for American racing started at Lime Rock when I got my first podium in America there in 2008, in the ALMS. It’s always a busy race. Such a short lap, and there’s a lot of strategy. It’s a hard, hard place to race in the heat of July. It’s important to try and have as clean a race as possible, but at Lime Rock, having a clean race is near to impossible.”
Corvette, BMW and Porsche have winning experience at Lime Rock and will be looking to end the Ford streak, while Ferrari also will be a strong challenger.
“Lime Rock is a tough track, and it’s the shortest and most aggressive lap that we do,” said three-time winner Oliver Gavin, who co-drives the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R with Tommy Milner. “You feel like you’re racing everyone all the time. It’s in a beautiful part of the world, but it’s a tough track for all of us to race on. When you’re driving out of there you feel like if you’ve had a good result, it’s a real big bonus.”
Gavin and Milner currently lead Westbrook and Briscoe in the GTLM point standings by five, 192-187. The Corvette Racing lineup also includes Jan Magnussen, an ALMS and Rolex Series winner at the circuit, with Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette.
BMW Team RLL won its class in two of the three most recent ALMS races at the circuit.
Mueller – who now drives for Ford – shared in both of those victories, joined by John Edwards in 2013 and current Ford teammate Hand in 2011.
Edwards now co-drives the No. 100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM with Lucas Luhr, a three-time LM P1 winner at Lime Rock, while Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner co-drive the No. 25 BMW.
“My very first win for BMW was at Lime Rock, so I have some good memories there,” Edwards recalled. “I also won for the first time in GRAND-AM with SpeedSource, with Adam Christodoulou [in 2010]. I’ve had a lot of success there, but going back there with three classes is going to be a busy race. The middle of summer is going to be a hot and humid time, so I think Lime Rock will be one of the most challenging races we face, both physically – from the heat side – as well as mentally, from the traffic side.”
Leading the Porsche North America assault are Nick Tandy and 2015 GTLM champion Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, joined by Earl Bamber and Frederic Makowiecki in the No. 912 entry.
“A new race is always an interesting challenge,” said Makowiecki, who joins Tandy and Bamber at competing at the circuit for the first time. “For the teams it means a lot of work. We have just free practice and qualifying to set up the 911 RSR for this very special track. I hope we are successful.”
Ferrari is represented by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander and Lime Rock newcomer Giancarlo Fisichella. Vilander and Fisichella finished second in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last month, and took third in the WeatherTech Championship race at Long Beach in April.
“I’ve been to Lime Rock a few times and it’s completely different from the other places we race,” Vilander said. “Overall, I like the track. It will be quite a hectic race, because we don’t have a big straight line to get relief, and you have to be really aware of the traffic and all around you.”
CREDIT: IMSA Commnications