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      Ford Chip Ganassi Racing eyes 3rd straight Rolex 24 at Daytona title

      © Wes Duenkel

      Ford’s defense of the IMSA GT Le Mans manufacturers’ title begins this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, a track where the Chip Ganassi Racing team has enjoyed plenty of success. 

      © Wes Duenkel

      Between its two full-time IMSA cars, Ford CGR led 1,196 out of 1,435 racing laps in the last two years – or, just over 5,000 miles around Daytona’s storied track.

      The numbers were particularly dominant in last year’s race: the Nos. 66 and 67 led all but nine laps en route to a 1-2 finish in the GTLM category, marking team boss Chip Ganassi’s 200th win as a car owner. The two Ford GTs owned the top two spots for the final 18 hours and 47 minutes before Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon of the No. 67 triumphed.

      Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sebastien Bourdais, who finished runner-up in 2018, took the checkered flag in the 2017 event, meaning Ford Chip Ganassi has two cars full of Rolex 24 at Daytona champions. 

      “We’ll definitely be walking into the paddock with a smile on our faces, knowing we can do this,” Westbrook said. “But rest assured, there’s no way the gap will be as comfortable this year. It’s so nice going in defending our crown and knowing our car’s going to be quick, but this race just seems to get bigger and bigger. The quality throughout the field in every class gets better and better. When I compare it to when I first did this race, it’s so different. It’s almost unrecognizable. It just gets stronger and the crowd gets bigger every year.”’

      © Wes Duenkel

      While Ford CGR will look to put together a three-peat at the Rolex 24, there are more titles to defend in the 11-race season. Ford won its first IMSA WeatherTech manufacturers’ title last year, while Hand and Müller took home the Endurance Cup title, awarded to the top duo in the series’ four endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Petit Le Mans).

      “It’s clear that our car is a great car for Daytona,” Hand said. “The car was built for this type of track and the long straights there, and we’re wide open a long time, which really benefits our car. On top of that, it’s a great race for Ford CGR. They’ve won the race many times and it just seems like a place where it goes well. To have the first race of the year be at the track you feel most comfortable with is a good thing. Daytona is always a place I look forward to. To drive through the tunnel and be rolling into that track, that venue, is really a great way to start the season. The competition is always coming after you, but I think after winning two years in a row, people will really be coming after us. The GTLM series is difficult, with a lot of great competition, so we’ll see what happens.”

      The season-opening race will also come with a new look for the Ford CGR team: special liveries on both cars to celebrate IMSA’s 50th anniversary. The No. 66 will wear the colors of the Roush Racing Motorcraft Ford Mustang that John Jones, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and Doc Bundy drove to a GT1 victory at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1985. The No. 67 will sport a throwback tribute to current race team partner Castrol.

      RACE INFO: Saturday January 26 at 2 p.m. ET

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