MONTEREY, Calif. – Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand took out more than a year’s worth of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship frustration with a dominant GT Le Mans class victory Sunday in the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren.
With Hand at the wheel, the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT crossed the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca finish line 20.039 seconds ahead of the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE to collect its first win since the Lime Rock Park race in July 2018.
“I’m not going to lie, that feels really great,” Mueller said. “It’s a sweet victory but it wasn’t an easy one.”
“We got in the car the first session here and it was pretty bad,” Hand added. “It was not good. And we fought our way from the worst car we ever had here to the best car we ever had here today in the race.”
Mueller started second in class alongside Motul Pole Award winner Jesse Krohn in the No. 24 BMW. They remained that way through the early laps on the 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course, until the No. 24 stuttered briefly exiting the Andretti Hairpin in turn two. Mueller shot past into the lead and the No. 66 controlled the rest of the two-hour, 40-minute event.
“I knew my car was great, I could follow so closely behind (Krohn),” Mueller said. “I don’t really know what happened but he lost momentum and I took advantage (and) got by. That was tough because you don’t expect it. That was quite a close moment.
“From that moment, I think that was the milestone for the victory.”
Hand jumped into the No. 66 Ford GT following Mueller’s opening stint and stayed in the car to the finish. Opting for a two-stop strategy, Hand had only to outlast the three-stop effort of the Nos. 3 and 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs to earn his 19th career IMSA win and the 24th for Mueller.
The victory was especially rewarding for Hand, a native of Sacramento, Calif. It was his first race win at the track where he’s raced for more than two decades.
“I’ve been trying to win at this racetrack, my home racetrack, since like 1998,” Hand said. “That puts in perspective how this feels to me. I’ve got a lot of seconds here, I’ve been on the pole here in all different categories. I told my wife two weeks ago that 2019’s been kind of a tough year for me and I said, ‘I’m going to turn this one around, we’re going to win this one.’ That’s what we did today.
“This one feels really good. It’s not Daytona, it’s not Le Mans or whatever, but I’ll tell you what, this track stands out on the calendar for everybody. It especially stands out for a California guy like me.”
The entire race ran under green-flag conditions, with the GTLM leaders completing 114 laps. Mueller and Hand combined to lead 72 laps. Krohn ran the longest opening stint in the No. 24 BMW to lead 19 laps, with the off-strategy Corvettes leading the other 23 circuits around the iconic circuit.
Krohn and co-driver John Edwards brought home the No. 24 BMW in second place for the second time this season, but have yet to collect a win themselves.
Taking advantage of fresher Michelin tires with its three-stop efforts, the Corvettes chased down the No. 25 BMW in late stages to put three different manufacturers on the GTLM podium. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Antonio Garcia (No. 3 Corvette) and Tommy Milner (No, 4 Corvette) maneuvered past Connor De Phillippi (No. 25 BMW) on the same lap. Garcia held onto third place at the finish, giving the No. 3 its fourth second-place finish and sixth podium of the season.
Meanwhile in GT Daytona, Paul Miller Racing found redemption for a tough year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with its first win of the season.
The No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 entered the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season as defending champion, but only recorded one podium in the first four races. An incident in practice at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park forced the team to withdraw from the event, ultimately ending hopes of back-to-back titles.
The luck turned around, however, with a finish of second at Road America in August and finally returning to the top step of the podium Sunday at the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren with Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis, who stepped in for Ryan Hardwick the remainder of the season following his incident in Canada.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve had a lot of up and downs this year,” said Sellers. “Everyone says it’s been a tough year. This is our third podium of the season, so in a lot of ways it’s been pretty good. We’ve been first, second and third. The issue is a lot of the other races weren’t great. We’ve shown a lot of speed and a lot of consistency at the races. To finally be able to convert one and put a complete race together is obviously extremely satisfying.”
While happy with the victory, it wasn’t completely unexpected. The No. 48 Lamborghini led both practice sessions on Friday during the first official day of on-track activities. The next day, Lewis earned his first career pole position in IMSA to start from the top spot.
Between their two stints Sunday, Lewis and Sellers led flag-to-flag in the two-hour, 40-minute race.
Stalking the No. 48 in second place for the majority of the race was the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander. MacNeil qualified third on the charts, but jumped into second early in his stint. The team held the position for the rest of the race.