DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – For Chip Ganassi, the ease of the start made the finish that much more difficult.
It also made it that much better.
Ganassi scored his 200th victory as a team owner in all forms of motorsports today when one of his Ford GTs – the No. 67 shared by Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook – outlasted the other Ganassi entry to win the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance sports car race.
“If you’re leading and a certain number of hours go around the clock, it’s your race to lose,” Ganassi said. “It’s one thing to not win the race; it’s another to lose it. It was our race to lose, and those are the worst races from my point of view because everything is out of my control.”
It also marked the third class victory at the Rolex 24 by four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who previously won overall titles at Daytona with Ganassi in 2006 and 2015. Dixon has been involved in 43 of the team's 200 wins (40 in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the three at the Rolex).
“For me, it was one of the most nervous races coming down to the wire, just seeing how the team was playing out and racing so closely with the (No.) 66 car,” Dixon said. “There was really nothing much in strategy. Everybody played their part.”
Remarkably, the two Ganassi cars led all but nine of the 783 laps completed by the GTLM class, the second-fastest of the three classes in the 24-hour race on Daytona International Speedway’s road course that kicks off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. The No. 66 Ganassi Ford GT shared by Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais finished second, 11 seconds behind the No. 67.
Christian Fittipaldi, the former Indy car driver and nephew of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, teamed with Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa to take the overall victory in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi, beating the No. 31 Action Express entry shared by Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and former Indy car driver Mike Conway by just more than a minute in the fastest class, the Prototypes.
The No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 shared by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, former Indy car driver Franck Perera and Rik Breukers claimed victory in the GT Daytona class.
Ganassi’s victories during his 29-year career break down this way: 103 in Indy cars, 56 in sports cars, 39 in NASCAR and two in rallycross. After the race, he deflected credit to a long list of drivers, management personnel, engineers and crew members.
“There’s a time and a place to talk about that,” Ganassi said in the post-race news conference with Dixon, Briscoe and Westbrook. “We’re the kind of team that focuses on trying to do the best we can today. That’s how we approach every day. Today’s win is about here at Daytona and the Rolex and the three guys up here. When we’re talking to our little grandkids, we’ll talk about 200 wins.”
With only four full-course cautions, the 56th running of the race broke records for laps and mileage. Fittipaldi, Albuquerque and Barbosa covered 808 laps – 2,876.48 miles – breaking the all-time mileage record of 2,760.960 set in 1982 by John Paul Sr., John Paul Jr. and Rolf Stommelen in a Porsche 935JLP-3.
The previous lap record – 762 – was set in 1992 by Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Toshio Suzuki and Anders Oloffson in a Nissan R91 CP.
“The pace was just amazing,” Action Express owner Bob Johnson said. “There were so few yellow flags throughout the race, I just couldn’t believe it. To be able to be there at the end, especially with both teams, was just amazing. Beyond my expectations, really.”
The race wasn’t as kind to other drivers with Indy car connections. Roger Penske’s return to sports car racing for the first time since 2009 ended with ninth- and 10th-place finishes with a lineup that included Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Graham Rahal.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, finished 45th with mechanical issues after teammate Renger van der Zande won the pole position Thursday in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance to retire from the race with such a strong car,” Hunter-Reay said. “We obviously had the pace to be right there to be challenging the Action Express cars, but we had some unfortunate situations. … Certainly, it would’ve been a very positive race result for this team, but such is life and that is racing.”
In the end, the Indy car angle belonged to Ganassi’s 200th victory. Even Scott Pruett, a longtime Ganassi sports car driver who retired today with a ninth-place finish in the GTD class with 3GT Racing, chimed in.
“I can’t say enough about Chip and his organization,” Pruett said. “What we achieved together, those records will take a while to eclipse.”
In the moment, the victory was about strengthening Chip Ganassi Racing’s standing in the racing world.
“As the team grows, it does get to be a bit burdensome at times to keep growing at the pace we have over the years,” Ganassi said. “I’m happy at this point to just make sure we’re stepping on solid ground for the next few years.
“We’re solidifying our current position, if you will.”
The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series begins in six weeks with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).