INDIANAPOLIS – We could have at least four drivers in this weekend’s IMSA race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Course that will also race in the Indianapolis 500 later this month. Helio Castroneves will run with Team Penske while Kyle Kaiser returns to the seat this weekend with Juncos. While the Juncos entry is TBA on the official Indy 500 entry list, all signs point to Kaiser returning to the team for his second straight ‘500 appearance.
Now, we have two full time NTT IndyCar Series entrants in this weekend’s race as well.
Chip Ganassi Racing hopes that history repeats itself this weekend and will have Sebastien Bourdais in one of their cars in replacing the still ailing Joey Hand with Ryan Hunter-Reay joining Mazda’s IMSA program too.
Four years ago, on this very same first race weekend of May, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing accomplished a landmark achievement when Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe took the No. 67 Ford GT to victory lane at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., the first global win for the then-new Ford GT race car.
This weekend, Westbrook and Briscoe will join teammates Dirk Mueller and Sébastien Bourdais in seeking to return a Ford GT to IMSA victory lane for the first time since last summer’s race at Road America.
Bourdais returns for a second consecutive race in a fill in role for Joey Hand, who is focusing on recovery efforts to ensure he’s prepared for Le Mans. “It’s really been a rough few weeks dealing with this very strong virus,” said Hand. “Under doctors’ orders, I’ve had to rest with no physical activity whatsoever. Only this week have I felt well enough and been given the okay to do light training and resume preparation for driving again. Having missed my home race at Long Beach and now effectively out of the drivers’ championship points chase, my main priority and focus is to be 100% for Le Mans.
“It’s so tough to miss another race,” he continued. “But with the unknown of how I would feel getting back into the racecar later this week for Mid-Ohio, I certainly did not want to jeopardize and compromise Dirk’s and the team’s chances of success. So we’ve made the collective decision to wait one more event before I get back behind the wheel. Fortunately having Seb available again, means the team still has a great shot at the win! I’ll be cheering the boys on.”
In 2018, IMSA returned to Mid-Ohio for the first time since 2013’s GRAND-AM race. The pair of Ford GTs qualified sixth and seventh before subsequently finishing fourth and fifth. After coming up short in the first three races of 2019, the Fords are looking to capitalize during this midwestern foray and gain momentum heading into next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
“The Ford GT program has been an immense success overall,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “But on top of the great development learnings we’ve gained from this program, we obviously want wins when we show up at a race track. We struggled a bit at this race last year and have come up just shy of a win at all three IMSA races so far this year, but we think we have a good shot at redeeming both those situations this weekend.” The first three races of the IMSA season feature a twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona, a once-around-the-clock race at Sebring and a brief 100-minute sprint around the streets of Long Beach. Mid-Ohio is the first race to feature the two-hour, 40-minute runtime that makes up the bulk of the WeatherTech Championship races. As the ‘regular season’ begins, all four drivers are looking to kick things into high gear.
Mueller and Westbrook have both captured sports car endurance wins at Mid-Ohio in the past, while Bourdais is seeking his first victory at the Lexington, Ohio facility. Briscoe is also anxious to unload as he has an INDYCAR victory on the circuit, but none yet in sports car racing. “We’re really looking forward to getting to Mid-Ohio and getting this GT program to the top of the podium for the first time this year,” said Briscoe. “Four years ago this week, Westy and I got the Ford GT’s first win at Laguna Seca, and that victory really gave our whole Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team momentum for the rest of the year. We’d like to duplicate that kind of performance as we get ready for Le Mans next month.”
Mueller and Bourdais are currently fourth in the drivers’ championship standings, with Westbrook and Briscoe sixth. Ford currently sits third in the manufacturers’ standings, 10 points out of first.
For Hunter-Reay, the 2012 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, will partner with Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Bomarito’s regular teammate, Harry Tincknell, will return for the rest of the season at the Detroit Grand Prix.
The previous race, the Grand Prix of Long Beach, saw a strong run for the No. 77 Mazda RT24-P of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez. Both Nunez and Jarvis led the race before finishing in fourth position. The 2018 version of the Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio saw Mazda Team Joest record its first podium, with Jarvis and Nunez finishing in third place. Mid-Ohio was also the circuit where Mazda scored its first American Le Mans Series class victory in 2005 in the LMP2 class, and where in 2010 it scored its first overall victory.
“Mazda has really put a lot into their program, and Mazda Team Joest have taken a big step up this season,” said Hunter-Reay who will be making his eighth career IMSA start. “The car is obviously very fast and I’m excited to race it at Mid-Ohio. Jonathan is a good friend and we’ve been teammates in the past, so it will be great to share the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P with him and fight for a win. I’ve driven race wining Daytona Prototypes in IMSA for a long time, the Prototype field is as strong and deep as it has ever been, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it again this season.”