Monday, January 28, 2013

Daytona Rolex 24 Race Recap

Michael Shank Racing Returns to Rolex 24 Podium

After an early-race setback cost the team seven laps to the race leader, Michael Shank Racing staged a huge comeback at the Daytona International Speedway to score a third place finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Drivers Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, and Justin Wilson rallied behind the huge effort of the defending champion crew to take the group’s second consecutive Rolex 24 podium finish, and the fourth podium result for team owner Mike Shank in the huge endurance race.

“I’m happy on the one hand that the 60 car came from essentially nine total laps down,” said Mike Shank. “We led the thing after being super aggressive. Everybody worked their butt off. I couldn’t be more happy about it. Thank you to Ford Racing—Jamie Allison here, Mr. Raj Nair (Ford Vice President for Global Product Development) here today. It was great. Looking forward to next year and still want to win. I’m literally more proud of the group today [than last year] because this was incredibly stressful and incredibly hard, so I’m grateful that they all hung in.”

Running just one lap behind the lead late in the race, the sister Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley of Gustavo Yacaman, Chris Cumming, Michael Valiante, and Jorge Goncalvez, was also well-placed for a strong finish, but contact with a GT machine spelled an early end to the effort of the foursome, which was poised for a return to the Rolex Podium thanks to its strong and steady pace.

Allmendinger opened the race from sixth on the grid. Having led every Rolex 24 he has ever entered, the 31-year-old was looking to extend that streak once again. But less than half an hour after the drop of the green flag, the No. 60 Ford-Riley was in the pits with a nose full of dirt and a deranged front left wheel. A quick diagnosis from the crew determined that the left front toe link needed to be replaced. While the setback was significant, everyone on the team was thankful that the mechanical failure occurred when the NASCAR pilot was in the Kink corner, rather than flat out on the high banks of the Daytona oval. Despite quick pit work, the car returned to the field some seven laps down.

But the race wasn’t done trying to knock the team down. After getting back to within four laps of the leader, the alert engineering staff monitoring the telemetry saw a fuel pressure issue. Again with a quick diagnostic decision, the team brought the car into the garage—where podium dreams traditionally go to die—but quick work brought the car back on track only two laps behind its previous position, before the unscheduled stop.

The die was cast with the team some six laps down from the leader with 12 hours yet to run. Using the most of shrewd pit strategy, strong driving, and a car that was quick and reliable, the team was once again a common utterance on the lips of the SPEED broadcast team as Allmendinger, Pew, Ambrose, Negri, and Wilson all teamed up to claw their way back onto the lead lap. Ultimately, the effort saw Allmendinger move into the overall lead on lap 665.

A dream return to the top step of the podium was not in the cards, however. Allmendinger had to finally cede his position to the race-winning car’s unparalleled topline speed, despite lap after lap of valiant defense. A second blow came on an ensuing restart, when Allmendinger was muscled off course while fighting for second place. With some breath taking strategy and smart, strong driving, the three-time Rolex 24 podium finisher came home third after a roller coaster of a 24 hour race.

“At five o’clock yesterday afternoon, I wouldn’t have dreamed to be on my way to the podium right now,” said Pew. “But I know the Shank guys, I know they don’t give up, and I’m not surprised. Nobody gave up, nobody put their heads down, everybody worked as hard as they could. You never know how it’s going to happen in the end, and I’m really happy with the podium. I’m just so fortunate to have met all these guys in the Shank team, and Ozz, and AJ, Justin, and Marcos. I’m very fortunate for how this all came together.”

“You always want to do your best for Mike,” said Justin. “He’s just so enthusiastic that it rubs off on everyone. If you’d have told us after the first hour that we’d have a chance of finishing third we’d have been over the moon. As you’re standing on the podium you’re thinking ‘there’s nothing quite like being first’, but third place after everything we’ve come through in this race is a great result. I’ve got to thank everyone at Michael Shank Racing and Ford for doing such a great job and giving us the opportunity.”

The weekend was full of comebacks, as longtime Michael Shank Racing pilot Ozz Negri saw his first official race laps after suffering an accident in off-season testing that resulted in a broken ankle. “To me it was just amazing to be able to be here,” said Negri. “A week ago, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to race. I had a broken foot, and I got my stint in and to find myself on the podium—it just tells you what this team is built with. Ford, Justin Wilson, Ambrose, AJ, John Pew, Mike Shank Racing crew, Continental Tires. I’m very proud. We never give up.

“It’s just a good momentum. You know, Daytona’s been good to us. This is the third time I’ve been on the podium with AJ and Justin racing together. Now having Marcos, and the second time with John, it’s a blast. Those guys are awesome. I’m just very thankful.”

“The biggest thing is MSR is just a world class operation,” said former Australian V8 Supercar Champion and six-time NASCAR winner, Ambrose. “It’s been a privilege to drive for them and be a part of this team. I’ve had a blast. I was nervous getting in for my first stint; I didn’t think I had done enough in practice to be ready, but the team’s so organized I got confident pretty quickly behind the wheel, and the car was working well. It was a great experience, it really was.”

“It’s really those guys over there—it’s those guys who bust their butt,” said Allmendinger as he motioned to the crew. “They had so much work to do, and they did it in so little time and all my teammates—John, Ozz, Justin and then Marcos put a great stint in right before I got in, Justin, as always, is spot on, so it’s always a pleasure to race with these guys, and race with this team, and we’ll come back and do it again and win this thing next year.

“It starts with Mike Shank—the attitude that he has, the effort he puts into this race team. He takes care of his guys. I think this is my eighth year racing it with him and I saw it from the first year. They don’t quit whether it’s a small problem or it looks like the engine blows up and they’re trying to put a new one in. Just pleased to go out there and to be able to take this car and get it on the podium. Just hopefully it kicks off for Ozz and John to try and win a championship.”

The sister No. 6 car, which had scored a run to the podium in 2013, was unable to play a role in the race on Sunday afternoon, despite having been well positioned by strong drives from all four in the line up.

“Last year it was very good,” said Yacaman. “We kept our nose clean, did what we were supposed to do, and got the job done at the end. This year, we weren’t so lucky. The GT traffic—and basically everyone—was more aggressive. In between both my stints, I think I got hit six times. Jorge just made a mistake—everyone makes mistakes. It was hard. I was a little bit tired. But we live and learn. The crew was perfect. The car did not have a mechanical issue at all, and like I said, we got hit a couple of times, and I’m pretty sure that Michael, and Jorge, and Chris had their moments as well in the car and their heart skipped a beat. The Ford engine ran great, shifting right on the limiter with no issues whatsoever. I think our strong points were the engine and the team really. The guys did an amazing job, the team did an amazing job.”

Michael Shank Racing will look to build some championship momentum when the Rolex Sports Car Series debuts at the Circuit of the Americas March 2.

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