Ford Development Driver and IMSA Star Joey Hand Collected His First Career Michelin Pilot Challenge Win at VIR
By Godwin Kelly
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joey Hand was dealt a hard, one-two career punch combination a few years ago that sent him to the mat. But like a true champion, he has pulled himself up, got back into the ring and just scored his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge victory.
“I had a two-year hiatus when Ford ended its GT program and my Platinum (FIA driver) rating kind of kept me out of doing a lot of things, then we had the pandemic,” Hand said. “It’s just good to be back racing.”
The 43-year-old veteran from Sacramento, California, signed a deal with Ford at the start of 2022 to perform a variety of jobs. He has been tasked with helping NASCAR Cup Series Ford teams develop the Next Gen stock car on road courses, and he is part of the team creating the Mustang GT3, which will make its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in 2024.
“Basically, I’m a Ford driver,” he said. “I help them in different ways. I help them with the simulator and NASCAR’s Next Gen car. I help any of the Ford Cup and Xfinity (Series) guys who want my help with road courses. I work with them in the simulator for road course stuff. I use my knowledge of the tracks and pass it on to them. The reason for me doing all this is to help Ford win races any way I can.”
As part of the package, Hand has competed in five NASCAR Cup Series road races this year to get seat-of-the-pants experience, which helps him build a setup notebook for Ford teams. He has one more start at the Charlotte Roval next month.
His NASCAR stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole story, such as his 31st-place finish at Watkins Glen three weeks ago. He had the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford positioned in the top five late in the race but spun in Turn 1 in a late-braking move that failed.
“I had been working on Martin Truex for a long time,” he said. “I went for a big, out-brake move, which I didn’t think was that crazy, I was just going to run Turn 1 wide. When I hit the brakes, I lost the rear brakes and I had no chance.
“I never had that happen to me. I was super bummed. You feel like a dummy because you’ve got a good race car, then you make a mistake. I pride myself on not making mistakes like that. The last time I put a car into the fence on my own was in 2009 at Sebring in a warmup.”
Less than a week after that mistake, however, Hand found redemption at VIRginia International Raceway by winning the Michelin Pilot Challenge Virginia Is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix on Aug. 27.
Hand, who has 18 IMSA top-level series race wins dating to 2004, notched the Michelin Pilot Challenge victory in the No. 40 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4, co-driving with James Pesek.
“Ford called me just after the Indy NASCAR race and they said, ‘Hey, we need you to help the PF Racing guys,’” Hand said. “I guess (co-driver) Chad McCumbee had racing conflicts the rest of the year. At the last minute they called me and asked me to finish the year out with them. I did Road America, Virginia, then we finish up at Road Atlanta. The good thing about this is that it gets me back into the IMSA loop.”
Hand’s most recent previous IMSA time was pretty memorable as part of the vaunted Ford GT program from 2016-19 in the WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans class. On top of that, he was part of the driver lineup that delivered a 24 Hours of Le Mans victory for Ford in 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the manufacturer’s vaunted triumph over Ferrari in the French endurance classic.
He was part of five race-winning efforts including the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona before the program was shelved. It’s why he’s so excited to be the development driver for the new Mustang GT3, though he doesn’t know much about the car at this point.
“I am part of the GT3 development program in 2023 with Ford and Multimatic Motorsports,” Hand said. “I haven’t even seen the GT3 yet. That is a well-kept secret.”
He also doesn’t know if he will continue helping NASCAR teams or do more Michelin Pilot Challenge races next year in addition to helping advance the GT3 race car. Multimatic and Ford also are developing a Mustang GT4 scheduled to compete in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2023.
“I will finish out the year with PF Racing,” Hand said, “then help with the development of these new cars moving forward with development in 2023 and hopefully racing in 2024. The GT4 and GT3 will be totally different cars.
“The deal with PF Racing was something that just came up. I was the obvious fit because I know the tracks and my connection with Ford. I could jump right in it and get going.”
The Michelin Pilot Challenge season concludes Sept. 30 with the Fox Factory 120 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.