Hand Expects Dogfight in Hometown Race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There’s no IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race closer to home for Joey Hand than Sunday’s America’s Tire 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The famed 2.238-mile circuit in Monterey, California is less than 200 miles away from Hand’s home in Sacramento. Mazda Raceway hosts the two-hour, 40-minute WeatherTech Championship race, which is the headline event of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix.

Being so close to home, Hand will have plenty of support from family and friends at the circuit. In fact, he’ll be camping alongside them throughout the weekend right there at the racetrack. The driver of the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that he shares with co-driver, Dirk Mueller, also believes the track’s proximity to Sacramento improves his chances on the racetrack.

“There’s something to be said about ‘home-track,’ ‘home-stadium,’ or ‘home-whatever’ advantage,” Hand says. “You see it all the time. There always seems to be that home-track advantage for a lot of people. For me, I always say comfort is a big deal. I’ll be able to have my friends and my family and everybody right there at the track.”

And facing competition as tough as it is in the WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, any small advantage is helpful. Hand knows the racing this weekend will be tough.

“There’s no question in my mind, it’s going to be just a proper dogfight, but if you look at how the IMSA WeatherTech series has been this year in our class, it’s been like that,” he said. “Lots of different winners, lot of different pole winners, people dogfighting the whole races, and things happening in the last hour or 30 minutes that weren’t necessarily how the whole races were going. I don’t see any reason for it to be different this race. It could be even more exciting for the fans.”

In 2016, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was the site of the historic first victory for the new Ford GT program fielded by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. Hand’s teammates, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe did the honors that day aboard the red, white and blue No. 67 machine, coming out on top in a strategic battle that included Hand and Mueller in the No. 66.

A month later, however, Hand and Mueller got their moment in the sun, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside their endurance racing teammate – multi-time IndyCar champion Sebastien Bourdais – in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s famed 1966 Le Mans win with its GT40 race car.

This year's race is the penultimate round of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season, after being run in the spring last year before the Le Mans break for GTLM teams. It also includes the addition of the GT Daytona (GTD) class, which competed in a separate race alongside the Prototype Challenge (PC) class – which isn’t racing this weekend – after the two-hour GTLM and Prototype class race finished.

The three classes combine to make a 33-car field according to the entry list, which Hand believes will add to the excitement on Sunday.

“There’s not a huge difference in speed in the (GTLM and GTD) cars, so you will have to be aggressive,” Hand said. “From the cockpit of the GTLM guys, you’ll have to be aggressive passing those guys so that you don’t get either slowed down by it and have your competition catching you or getting passed by your competition. I think you’re going to see some pretty aggressive racing.

“Everybody’s coming down to the wire here. With two races to go, I’m not the only one thinking like this, thinking that wins are important and thinking that we have to maximize our opportunity there. A lot of people are going to be talking like that and thinking like that. We just want to do it the best. That would be our goal. Do the simple things right, as (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) would say.”

Hand and Mueller enter the weekend tied for third in the GTLM standings with their No. 67 teammates. They’re 17 points behind leaders Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, but just one behind second place Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM.

This weekend’s race is the penultimate round of the season with only the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 7 remaining.

“In the championship, we definitely have a mountain to climb there,” Hand said. “I think we’re definitely looking at winning races. We’ve got to win and some cars gotta have some problems, really.”

Hand and Mueller know how to win. They’ve done in twice already this year, in January’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and at Road America last month in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase. A win this weekend would be extra special for Hand.

“I’ve always had good cars there and good races at Laguna, but haven’t won one,” he says. “I’ve got second a lot, I’ve been on the pole there a few times in my career in different kinds of cars, but haven’t won one. We had a good go of it last year, we had a good car and just got caught out by a yellow.”

On-track preparations for the WeatherTech Championship get under way Friday with a pair of hour-long practice sessions, beginning at 10 a.m. PT and 2:50 p.m. PT, respectively. A third practice session opens Saturday’s schedule at 8 a.m. PT ahead of qualifying at 11:30 a.m. PT. IMSA.com will provide live coverage for every session.

The America’s Tire 250 will be televised live on FS1 at 5 p.m. ET. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio. Tickets for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix are available at MazdaRaceway.com.

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