After a tough first half of the season, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook have the hot hand in the GT Le Mans class of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship series.
Briscoe and Westbrook have won the last two races, scoring wins at Lime Rock in Connecticut and Road America in Wisconsin. The wins have vaulted the pair into third place in the championship points chase heading into Sunday’s 1:35 p.m. nationally televised running of the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway at Alton.
“It was a tough first half of the season,” Briscoe pointed out, “but since warm weather rolled in, we had a couple of really good races at Lime Rock and Road America that kind of turned things around for us, and we’re going to try to keep rolling.”
The recent pair of wins has brought a new sense of confidence to the team.
“I think we have a lot more team motivation,” Briscoe said.
“We were having a bad string of races and were not really up there in the points. The team morale is really high at the moment. Everyone is feeling good about the last two races. I would say there has been a boost in confidence. I hope we can keep it rolling.”
The back-to-back wins have put the two Ford drivers back into the conversation about the GTLM championship. Two Porsche factory teams, one with drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, and the other with drivers Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, occupy the top two spots in the standings. Briscoe and Westbrook are in third place, four points out of second place and 18 points out of the lead.
“We sort of discounted our chances for the championship awhile ago,” Briscoe remarked, “but, after a couple of wins and moving up in the standings, we’re thinking about it again.
“We are still a pretty long way out from those guys (Bamber and Vanthoor),” added Briscoe.
“I think we’re going to need those (Porsche) teams to have a little bit of bad luck. If we can continue our winning streak here, anything is possible. We’re going to be out there going for the win.”
Briscoe and Westbrook ran into a spate of bad luck to start the season, but their fortunes have turned for the better.
“At Daytona and Sebring, we were running strong,” Briscoe pointed out.
“We were really unlucky at Daytona. We were 15 seconds out of the red flag from winning the Rolex 24. At Sebring, we led most of the race. Then we had a period of a few difficult races where we just lacked performance.
“At Lime Rock, where it was really hot, we tried an alternate strategy and won that race on strategy,” he continued.
“At Road America we won on being good on tires on the long run in the heat. We won those races more on strategy than outright pace. We’re hoping for more of the same at VIR.”
Being in the position that their team is in with regard to championship chase, Briscoe says the door is open for his team to do some thinking outside the box with race strategy.
“As far as car setup goes, I think we’re four years on the car with basically everything the same on the car,” he explained.
“We’re really sort of dialing into understanding what works best on the car. There has been a new tire from Michelin this year, and I think we’re starting to figure that out. I don’t think we really need to go too far outside the box with the setup.
“Playing with strategy, I think that’s where we’ve gained an advantage over the last two races,” added Briscoe.
“With two cars on the team where both are on the outside on the points, we can afford to split strategy between the two teams and try to make sure one of them ends up in Victory Circle.”
This weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR is the last of two IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship events this season having an all-GT format. Briscoe says he likes the format.
“I think having a couple of races a year where we’re racing for the outright win is nice,” Briscoe remarked.
“I think we’re watching our mirrors a bit less. The race tends to be more likely going green all the way. It changes our strategy a little bit. I think it’s fun going to VIR where we’re racing for the outright win.”