Ford GTs disappoint as Chevy Corvette wins Rolex 24

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Daytona Beach, Florida — What was meant to be a celebration of the rebirth of Ford’s storied GT supercar instead became a coronation for its crosstown rival.

Ford’s GTs suffered a disappointing return to racing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, thanks to braking issues, blown tires and faulty transmissions that forced them back into the garage for hours of the marathon event. While much of the pre-race hype centered around the Blue Oval and its GTs, the final hour of the race was all about Chevrolet’s No. 04 Corvette C7.R, locked in a battle with the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR for first place.

Chevy won the GTLM class, finishing first and second with its No. 04 and No. 03 Corvette C7.Rs, respectively. Porsche came in third place. Honda, competing in the prototype class, won the overall race.

Ford’s No. 66 GT finished seventh and the No. 67 GT finished ninth out of 11 cars in the GTLM class. Ford’s No. 01 Daytona Prototype finished fifth in its class, while its No. 02 prototype finished seventh. The No. 02 car won last year’s Rolex 24 using the same 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that powers the GTs, but was taken out of contention late when bad brakes caused it to smash into a tire-lined wall.

“We will regroup, we will fix it, and then we will go out at Sebring and show what we can do,” Dave Pericak, head of Ford Performance, said after the race.

The GTs troubles were perplexing, but not unusual. Ford has tested its GTs for thousands of miles, but the actual cars that raced in Daytona had only hit race pavement weeks ago at the Roar Before the 24 tuneup. Many of the problems with both cars were new and had never before given the team trouble.

Ford executives and members of the Chip Ganassi Racing team said before the race that they expected to win, but after early troubles the car’s chances of a podium finish were all but shattered and the focus turned to simply finishing the marathon event.

“It’s frustrating,” Pericak said. “But the worst thing we can do is put our heads down. We’ve got a great automobile. We’ve done a great job, we just have to go clean this thing up.”

The No. 67 car had the most trouble. Just 16 minutes into the race, driver Ryan Briscoe lost significant speed and had to pit with the shifting issue. Pit crews worked on the car for about five or 10 minutes before it was taken back into the garage where Ford Performance executives including Raj Nair, Pericak and Henry Ford III and team owner Chip Ganassi watched the team work on the issue.

Shortly after they resolved the shifting problem, a damaged rear diffuser rubbed against the No. 67 car’s right rear tire and cut it on two different occasions, causing it to pit both times.

Early Sunday morning, the No. 67 car was forced back into the garage for three hours as crews replaced its entire gear box. Later, it came back to the garage yet again after drivers reported low voltage.

“We learned a lot of things,” said driver Stefan Mucke. “We have to see the positives out of it. We had a couple of little issues which are easy to fix, so honestly I’m looking forward to the coming races.”

The No. 66 GT started out of the gate well. It held the class lead for three minutes early and sat in third place an hour into the race. But the No. 67 car encountered problems 16 minutes in.

After its early position at the top of the pack, the No. 66 car came in for a routine pit stop to change tires and refuel. While changing tires, a brake line was damaged, causing the car to remain in the pit for just under 10 minutes. After the team replaced the brakes, Joey Hand went back out on the track only to have engine issues moments later and had to re-pit. Both problems put the No. 66 car six laps down.

Later, the No. 66 car was forced off the track and into the garage for the same shifting issue that troubled its sister 67 car. A Ford Performance spokesman said the issue for both cars was with the same component in the control system of the transmission. Its transmissions are made by supplier Ricardo and have never given the racing GTs trouble before.

“After the first three hours we didn’t have many issues,” said Hand. “I feel we have a really good base.”

Pericak said he’s encouraged because, when the GTs were on the track, they were running well.

“It would have been great to come in and have a Cinderella story, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “The GT at its core is a racecar, and the drivers proved they can race this thing. I’d rather have a vehicle that is a great racer and we need to work on a few durability things than to have one that’s really durable but doesn’t race as well.”

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