Coming full circle: Longtime friends find themselves as teammates once again
The racing careers of Joey Hand and Justin Marks have taken them very different directions, but nonetheless, they've found each other once again as teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Hand, a successful road racer with multiple victories in the Rolex 24 and a stint as a BMW factory driver in DTM, has found his way into the seat of the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT ahead of the marque's long awaited return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Then there's Marks, a class winner at Daytona with an extensive road racing resume in America, but recently, he's been building a name for himself in the world of stock car racing.
First meeting at BMW
The two drivers met over a decade ago when they were paired up as teammates at BMW, having never met each other prior.
"It was really my first time doing any kind of professional car racing," Marks told Motorsport.com. "And Joey was coming off a back injury that effectively ended his open-wheel career. He was trying to find his way in the sport. We didn’t know each other and we were paired off as teammates. So we forged a friendship there."
They spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons piloting a BMW M3 in what was then known as the Grand-Am Series. In 2006, they leaped over into ALMS, now driving a BMW E46 M3.
But as always, things changed and their paths diverged. Hand went to Europe with BMW while Marks remained in the states, shifting his focus to a lifelong dream of becoming a NASCAR driver, moving to North Carolina.
Although their careers took them in opposite directions, they remained good friends and years later, they are still a world apart, but now, under the same banner.
One in Iowa and the other at Le Mans
While Marks pilots the No. 42 Ganassi-owned Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa this weekend, his counterpart will be in France, driving the all new Ford GT for Ganassi in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
"It’s great to go back to the 24," said Hand, who hasn't competed in the event since 2011. "Everybody wants to go there … You don’t really get a good feel of Le Mans until you’re there -- Of how big of a deal it is.
"Coming back the way I get to come back with this new Ford GT program with how big of a deal it is and with how much history is behind it -- It makes it even cooler for me. Ford is 100% behind this.
Racing for Chip Ganassi
When asked about the fact that he's racing for Chip, Hand said, "(Ford) brought this program to Ganassi for a reason. They’re champions and winners for a reason.
"I’ve always known I wanted to drive for Chip. We talked about it for years and in 2014, he finally said let’s do it. Just proud to be part of this program and part of this historic comeback for Ford, 50 years after their last win."
For Marks, racing for Chip is the best opportunity he's ever had in his NASCAR career.
"It’s a whole different ball game. In stock car racing, everyone has essentially the same car. So when you get with a big organization like CGR that has the resources with their human capital, their technology and their history … It’s a huge difference.
"I’ve raced for teams that had two race cars in the entire shop and a couple guys. Then CGR gets to choose which cars they’re taking to the tracks. What you’re able to go with the race track with certainly builds a lot of confidence in the driver.
"It changes your perspective when you’re with a team that size. It motivates you incredibly."
In fact, the car he gets to drive just recently won at Pocono with Kyle Larson behind the wheel. As exciting as it may be to know you have such equipment under you, it also adds some pressure for Marks, who has just 19 starts so far in his nascent Xfinity career.
"You want that pressure. You want to be in a car that can win. Kyle is really coming into his own right now. But you have to compartmentalize that pressure. I have to put it someplace where it’s not influencing the job I have to do. It’s a good exercise in managing expectations. This team does not expect me to sit on the pole, lead 80 laps and win the race.
"Every driver wants that pressure and Joey can attest to that. Every driver wants the pressure of having a car that is capable of winning the race."
The difference between the Daytona 24 and the "beast" that is Le Mans
While Marks tries to make the most out of this great opportunity, Hand is trying to make history on the other side of the pond. And although he has nine appearances in the Rolex 24, the California-native understands that Circuit de la Sarthe is a completely different animal. The only thing the two endurance classic really share is the fact that they're both 24 hours in length.
"It’s a pretty big difference, for sure. At Daytona, we’re pretty lit up. Daytona is like daylight all night, compared to Le Mans. At Daytona, we don’t have cars coming up on us nearly as fast. They’re only quicker than us down the straightaways and it takes them a while to get to us. Le Mans is a whole different beast. People would be really shocked at how dark it is down the Mulsanne Straight, especially between the first and second chicanes. There’s no lights. There’s not one light, at all. Maybe a little light from the little cottage like 30 feet off the track, but nothing. It’s not straight either. It bends, it’s got a crown.
"And then you throw in the LMP1 cars. They’re about a 1000hp now and the closing speed, even at top end, is 30 to 40mph. You may not have even seen anybody at the first chicane, but by the time you get to the first chicane, they’ll be there. You have to be really heads us. You can’t be day or night dreaming. In the Ford GT, we have a rearview cameras since you can’t see through the back of the car. So we have that and the side mirrors. So you’re just doing like a circle. You go left, right, rearview constantly down the straightaway. You have to be on your toes and that’s just the part where you’re trying not to get run over.
"You still have to drive that race car and drive it fast. It’s intense. It is a different beast, for sure."
Joey then concluded, "The 24 at Daytona aren’t easy by any means, but I can do eight or nine hours and recuperate by the next morning. At Le Mans, your time in the car is longer and the breaks are shorter. The intensity of the race track is like driving the interstate in fog. Sweaty palms and your eyes popping out of your head. That’s how you drive Le Mans, every lap."
Although both are focused on their respective programs, the two friends would be eager to try a hand at what the other is getting the chance to do right now.
"I certainly just appreciate the gravity of the event," said Marks. "I would love to drive that car, but there are people on that CGR roster way more capable of driving it than I am. But sports car racing is sometime that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent so much of my career racing in it.
"I am really focused right now on my stock car racing career. It’s the most fun racing I’ve ever done and it’s a great challenge. I’ll cheer the GT program on, but if one day there’s an opportunity to drive it, I’ll be the first one in line with helmet in hand."
Hand gave a similar response when questioned about any NASCAR aspirations he may have lingering within him.
"Oh I’ve always been the guy that would love to do everything. I was probably supposed to be born in the earlier days where they drove everything - sprint cars, IndyCars, stock cars, whatever. Have helmet, will drive.
"I would love to do a NASCAR race on a road course. It’s my kind of racing. I’m a fighter. It’s right up my alley, but I always don’t want to lose focus on this GT program. If we could do it without messing with the program we have over here, I’d love to."
A friendship forged in racing
The Chip Ganassi Racing drivers had plenty to say about each other, reminiscing on days long past and the unique paths that have led them to this point.
"Joey has made his career by being a fighter and a scrapper. He’s done it on talent and tenacity," explained Marks. "In my career, I’ve worked really hard to find sponsorships and help me that way because I just didn’t grow up racing. I didn’t drive anything until I was like 18 years old. So I was also behind the curve, a little bit.
"We don’t share shop space or see each other at the track, but when we’re both routing for our friend, it puts a little extra in our tank for each other. And we’re both representing one of the greatest owners in the history of the sport. It makes it really interesting."
Added Hand, "Justin speaks very well, so it’s tough to add. It’s entertaining to me to think about what we were and how we started. We were young guys racing for BMW with our buddy Bryan Sellers. Racing each other on Gran Turismo and neither one of us had kids at that time so we spent a lot of time with each other. To see where we are now and how it’s come around full circle is kind of cool. I’m very proud of Justin. He’s done so much and he’s worked so hard to do it. He made it happen."
Van der Garde: “We can take LMP2 win at Le Mans”
Gavin: Every GTE Pro car has a chance to win Le Mans
Coming full circle: Longtime friends find themselves as teammates once again
Le Mans Next session
- Formula 1