DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chip Ganassi Racing typically goes into the Rolex 24 at Daytona as the heavy favorite.
Not this weekend.
Ganassi switched to Ford during the offseason, and a variety of issues have raised questions about the competitiveness of the two-car entry for the twice-around-the-clock endurance race that begins Saturday.
A rule change ordered by IMSA cost Ford valuable horsepower and drivers have complained they are down as much as 5 mph on the straightaway compared to the Corvettes. They've also said there's a design flaw in their splitter that's created a downforce disadvantage through the road course portion of Daytona International Speedway.
"It's a big change for the team," said Scott Dixon, the reigning IndyCar champion and lead driver of the No. 02 Riley DP. "Aerodynamically, it's a big task. With the new engine and an engine that really hasn't done a 24-hour race before, and being turbo, there's lots of different areas that you can improve and make it better.
"Right now it's just trying to make the process as quick and as smooth as possible, but also trying to get the most out of it too. It's going to be a tough race for us, but obviously when you team up for the first time you've got lots to learn."
Ford, in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship as a factory program with a production engine that is 70 percent common to the Taurus SHO, is debuting its new EcoBoost engine package this weekend. Any time a manufacturer debuts a new element to its program it runs the risk of reliability issues, and problems to the 3.5-liter V6 twin-turbo could ruin the race for both Ganassi and 2012 winner Michael Shank Racing.
But Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, said any reliability questions Ford had in preseason testing were exhaust related. He's confident the engines can survive the race because Ford ran them the equivalent of four 24 Hours of Daytona on the engine dynamometer, a distance of 11,000 miles.
"This is what you do when you bring something new to racing," Allison said, acknowledging a disparity between Ford and Chevrolet that came after IMSA ordered engine restrictions following preseason testing.
"It is a 24-hour race and we believe that just with the series adjustments, to just make sure it's more consistent like the (test) was, then we'll be able to be in contention with the right strategy, with the right circumstance, and with the right combination of fuel mileage and power, which is what EcoBoost is all about, and the right teams, present itself to potentially win the race."