Yes, the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid won overall and in the LM P1 class after the No. 5 Toyota GAZOO Racing TS050 Hybrid failed while leading with less than five minutes to go, but stealing the thunder at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the Ford Chip Ganassi Teams USA, which took the GTE Pro win and third place in the brand-new Ford GT.
With close to 50 IMSA regular and semi-regular drivers entered in the 2016 running of Le Mans endurance race, no one made more of an impact than the two Ganassi IMSA teams.
“It’s crazy," said Joey Hand, co-driver of the winning, and pole-sitting, No. 68 Ford GT. “Hashtag America. A lot of great people, that’s what this was all about. We put it all on the line. We didn’t leave anything out there, and the car just kept on truckin’."
The GTE Pro class is equivalent to the GT Le Mans class in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The two top Ford GTs were both from the U.S. IMSA stable, while the other two are based in Europe. Dirk MÃ¼ller qualified the No. 68 Ford GT on the class pole with a time of three minutes, 51.185 seconds, with the No. 69 qualifying 0.312 seconds back. Piloting the No. 68 was Hand, MÃ¼ller and Sébastien Bourdais, with Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the third-place No. 69.
Second in class was the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE with Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli. Finishing fourth in class was the No. 66 Ford GT from Ganassi’s UK stable.
“I’m just lucky to have such great people to work with and for," Ganassi said. “It’s incredible."
Ford sent four cars and a hand-picked driver lineup to try and repeat the Ford GT’s victory in 1966, on its 50th anniversary. The car has one IMSA victory, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was expected to be a Ford-Chevrolet battle, but the defending champion Corvette Racing C7.Rs qualified at the tail of the class – 13th and 14th – and struggled throughout the race.
Corvette No. 63 was driven by regulars Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, and in No. 64, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. Helping out were brothers Jordan Taylor (No. 64) and Ricky Taylor (No. 63), fresh from their Prototype victory in the most recent WeatherTech Championship race at Belle Isle in Detroit, driving the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Corvette Daytona Prototype.
Neither car had a good day – the No. 64 Corvette retired in 10th place in class. The No. 63 car was never a factor, but was running and in seventh place when the checkered flag fell.
Here’s a quick look at where some other IMSA drivers and teams finished:
GTE Am: The 2015 WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona champs Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell teamed with Jeff Segal to drive the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia to the class victory. The team dominated the entire race, rolling to a convincing victory over the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari team.
“Amazing! What a terrific race," said Bell in a post-race television interview. “The Ferrari was exceptional, and my teammates – Jeff and this guy [Sweedler] was so fast, he was a rocket ship out there, an absolute rocket ship. Not only did we win, but we won with a margin, which was more than you can ever hope for."
“There’s only one way could this have been better," Sweedler added. “If my teammate won the Indy 500!"
Current WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona class point co-leader Christina Nielsen was part of the No. 60 Formula Racing Ferrari 458 Italia team that finished sixth in class.
The hard-luck award has to go to the WeatherTech-sponsored No. 89 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR with Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen – regular co-drivers of the No. 22 WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT3 R – who were joined by frequent Continental Tire Challenge competitor Marc Miller. MacNeil fell ill and never started the race, and attempts to bring Gunnar Jeanette aboard as a third driver wasn’t approved, so Miller and Keen planned to do the whole 24 hours themselves.
But fate intervened again, and Miller crashed hard near the four-hour mark after hitting fluid on the track, ending the team’s bid.
In the LM P2 class: Michael Shank Racing, winner at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, fielded a Honda-powered Ligier with for co-drivers John Pew, Ozz Negri and Laurens Vanthoor. Their run was not without problems, but the team finished ninth in class.
The Extreme Speed team that won overall at both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek, who drove the No. 30 Nissan-powered Ligier, and in the No. 31 sister car, it was Pipo Derani, Chris Cumming and Ryan Dalziel, who also competes full-time in the WeatherTech Championship in the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP – finished 11th in class (No. 30) and 16th.
Michael Shank Racing, winner at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, fielded the same Honda-powered Ligier that the ESM team won Daytona and Sebring with for co-drivers John Pew, Ozz Negri and Laurens Vanthoor.
Also in a Nissan-powered Ligier was Krohn Racing’s Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and, on loan from the No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP, Joao Barbosa. They ended up 13th in class.
The GT Daytona winner at the most recent race at Belle Isle in Detroit, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, traded their Dodge Viper for an LM P2 Nissan-powered ORECA, with Marc Goossens visiting from the No. 90 Corvette DP he shares with Dalziel. They finished 15th in class.
Elsewhere In GTE Pro: The No. 91 Porsche Motorsport 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Kevin Estre, and the No. 92 sister car of Frédéric Makowiecki, Earl Bamber and JÃ¶rg Bergmeister, start 10th and eighth, respectively. Tandy and Bamber, of course, won Le Mans outright in 2015 in the Porsche 919 Hybrid. Both Porsches had a terrible day and finished in the final two spots in the class.