DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Watkins Glen Int’l occupies a special place in Richard Westbrook’s heart.
“When I first came to America, that was one of the first tracks I went to,” said the driver of the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. “It immediately stood out to me as one of the best tracks in the world. I always felt good there.”
And for each of the last three years, Westbrook has felt really good at the end of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. He took back-to-back victories in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class in 2014 and 2015, and last year, he co-drove to the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory with Ryan Briscoe. This Sunday, he’ll try to make it four in a row.
“I maybe never really got the results early on, but the last three years, it’s really clicked,” Westbrook said. “I always said it was my favorite track, and that was before I went on a winning streak there, but it definitely is now. To try and get four on the bounce this year is going to be incredibly tough, but it would be an incredible achievement.”
Westbrook predicts this weekend’s battle in the GTLM class will be tooth-and-nail, as it has been for quite some time in one of the world’s most competitive classes of GT racing anywhere.
“Everyone knows how competitive it is,” he said. “It’s really difficult to go into a weekend and say, ‘OK, we’re going to have an advantage,’ or, ‘We think they’re going to be quick.’ Everyone is so close this year. There’s just nothing in it.
“I think IMSA did a really good job on the BoP (Balance of Performance) and – since the back end of last year, I guess – it’s been so close. You never know who’s going to win the race up until the last lap.”
This weekend, Westbrook expects practice and qualifying to be somewhat less eventful than it was a year ago, when Briscoe had to hustle back to his home in Connecticut as his wife – ESPN SportsCenter anchor Nicole Briscoe – unexpectedly went into labor with the couple’s second daughter.
“It was a bit of an odd weekend, actually, because Ryan had pretty important issues to be worried about,” Westbrook recalls. “I think we were going out for a jog and then he got a call from his wife saying, ‘Things are happening.’
“He wasn’t expecting that call until after the race, but Ryan is a really cool guy. He just said, ‘Look, you set the car up. I know you’ll do a good job and I’ll come race it come race day.’ Fortunately, we had tested there early on in the year. Ryan, literally on his second lap in the (Sunday morning) warm up, he was bang up to speed. Then, we just had a really good race. It was one of those dream races.”
It was the third straight “dream race” for Westbrook at Watkins Glen, who seems to have figured out what it takes to live the dream in the Sahlen’s Six Hours.
“I think you’ve got to be brave on the track, because it’s a very daunting circuit,” he said. “Obviously, you’ve got to have a good setup that suits fast corners and maximizes the downforce in your car. You can’t get on the back foot in the six-hour race because it will be so difficult to make that time back up.
“You’ve always got to stay on the front foot, and that starts in qualifying. You can’t think, ‘Oh, OK, it’s a six-hour race. Qualifying doesn’t really matter.’ It does matter there. You’ve got to be on the front foot. That’s always been the case when we’ve won the last three years. We’ve always been in the leading pack. If you get behind that leading pack, it’s very difficult to make up, despite it being a longer race.”