DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dirk Mueller was masterful in the final 35 minutes of the 55th running of the Rolex 24 as he took the lead and then held off a fierce challenge from Patrick Pilet to win the GT Le Mans class for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT program.
The GT Le Mans class was arguably the most competitive class throughout the Rolex 24, with the top-four cars from four different automakers running nose-to-tail with 35 minutes left.
Mueller, who co-drove the No. 66 Ford GT with Joey Hand and Sebastian Bourdais, was running second to the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE driven by James Calado with about 34 minutes left when he pounced entering turn one. Mueller’s Ford GT and the Ferrari of Calado banged wheels, but Mueller emerged with the race lead as the third-running Porsche of Pilet slipped by Calado to take second.
A few moments later the 20th and final caution flag of the race waved when the GT Daytona No. 93 Acura NSX driven by Andy Lally came to a stop just off the racing surface. That set up a 20-minute dash to the finish with Mueller’s Ford leading the Porsche of Pilet.
On the restart Pilet tried to make a run to the outside of Mueller in turn one, but Mueller closed the door. Pilet fell back in line behind Mueller and continued to give chase. With 15 minutes left Pilet took another look on the outside entering turn one, but again Mueller again held him off.
Pilet had one last shot at getting the job done with 10 minutes left when Mueller’s Ford ran wide entering turn one, but Mueller recovered in time to block the advance of Pilet and hold the race lead.
After that Mueller began to build a gap on Pilet, eventually pulling away to give Chip Ganassi Racing a class victory a year after the debut of the Ford GT in this very race. Ganassi’s Ford GT program has now won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Rolex 24 in the last 12 months.
“I just couldn’t be any more proud of these guys and Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Bourdais, who was a part of the Le Mans winning Ford GT team last year. “Dirk…I think my spotter just sent me a message that he is a stud. That’s about it. Just unbelievable the job he did at the end there to make it stick.”
“Dirk, he was the man at the end. He got it done,” said Hand. “He was in a tough situation and he made it happen. Thanks to my German brother from another mother he pulled through and we’ve got another one here.”
Pilet, who shared the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR with Dirk Werner and Frederic Makowiecki, fell into a battle for second with Calado in the Ferrari. They finished nose-to-tail at the checkered flag, with Pilet barely holding off Calado to finish second.
In the GT Daytona class, Alegra Motorsports pulled off a bit of an upset against a stacked 27-car field. Michael Christensen piloted the No. 28 Porsche 911 GT3 R to victory by a scant .293 of a second over the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 shared by Christopher Mies, Jeffrey Schmidt, Connor De Phillippi and Jules Gounon.
The Alegra Motorsports Porsche, shared by Christensen, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada and Carlos de Quesada, spent most of the race chasing the lead before finally pulling into contention in the waining hours of the event.
“It was quite exciting. Obviously we hadn’t really been in the lead until the last hour but that was all according to plan,” Christensen said. “Obviously it is always difficult to make that plan happen in such a long race.
“I had to take some deep breaths the last few laps and the last caution as well just to keep everything intact and keep my focus on. That was quite intense.”