CHAMPCAR/CART: Rahal, Wilson team with MSR for Daytona 24

Champ Car World Series stars Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal have landed rides with Michael Shank Racing for next month's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the opening round of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season. The two open-wheel drivers will join full-season pilots Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson aboard the No. 60 Ford Riley.

Justin Wilson.
Photo by Bob Heathcote.
Wilson made his Rolex Series debut on the Daytona high banks in 2006, co-driving the No. 60 Daytona Prototype with Negri, Patterson and AJ Allmendinger to a 2nd place finish. The tall Englishman recorded his second start last September in the Sunchaser 1000k at Miller Motorsports Park, also sharing the wheel with Negri and Patterson.

"I really like driving with Mark and Oz and it should be good fun to have Graham in with the team as well," said Wilson, who was recently named as recipient of the Greg Moore Legacy Award for the second time. "I get along with Mike (Shank) and his whole team really well. It's a good atmosphere and we know we have a great opportunity for a good result once again."

Having spent the past four seasons in Champ Car, Wilson scored four wins and 15 podium finishes in 55 career starts. After a short stint with Conquest Racing, he moved to the RuSPORT stables in 2005. Wilson's first victory came in Toronto later that year. In 2007, a partnership between RuSport and the Rocketsports team fell apart mid-season, but Wilson was still able to secure a win at Assen and finish runner-up in the championship in his CDW RuSPORT machine. He has yet to sign a contact with a team for 2008.

Aside from his one prior start in the Rolex 24, Wilson also experienced another twice-around-the-clock endurance race. In 2004, he took part in 24 Hours of Le Mans, co-driving a Racing for Holland Dome S101-Judd with Tom Coronel and Ralph Firman.

"For a 24 hour event, this race always makes for amazingly close finishes," Wilson said of the Rolex 24. "There are a lot of really strong teams with great drivers from all over so I expect that it will be another competitive race. I think having already worked with Mark and Oz and all the guys on this team is going to be a big help, and I'm really looking forward to getting back to it in testing."

Rahal will be making his third consecutive Rolex 24 start, despite only being 18 years old. The second-generation racer became the youngest-ever driver to stand on Champ Car podium by earning a second place finish at Houston. The Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing racer finished his rookie season fifth in the championship and looks for 2008 to be his year to shine in Champ Car.

Graham Rahal.
Photo by Michael Tan.
In addition to his open-wheel ride in 2007, Rahal raced a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in two American Le Mans Series races for his father's team, Rahal Letterman Racing. He along with co-drivers Tom Milner and Ralf Kelleners finished third in class in the 1000-mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta last October. Coupled with endurance racing experience from two previous starts in the Rolex 24, Graham will be gunning to become the second Rahal to visit victory lane at Daytona. Father Bobby won the 24-hour classic in 1982, driving a Porsche 935 K3.

"The race itself is a historical event - one that you really want to win,' Rahal said of the Rolex 24. "Every time I walk into a jeweler, it's the first thing I think of when I see that watch - how great it would be to win a Rolex. Knowing all the people who have won it in the past, there would be a great sense of pride having that watch on your wrist. Between Daytona, Indy, Sebring, and Le Mans, those are four races any driver wants to win and it would be really fantastic to knock one of those off the list! Dad has done it so it'd be great to do it again for the family."

Team owner Shank hopes to rekindle some of the success the Ohio-based outfit enjoyed at Daytona in 2006.

"I'm excited to have Justin back with us and we're really looking forward to Graham being part of the team as well," Shank said. "Justin is quick in anything he gets into and was a big part of our success in 2006. We expect some big things out of Graham as well; he tested with us last season and I am happy he could be a part of this effort. We are really excited about our package with Ford behind us. Our drivers really liked the new Pirellis and while there is a lot of work ahead for us; this whole team is really pumped up about the 24."

Shank's other car, the No. 6 Ford Riley, will be co-driven by Ian James and John Pew for the entire season. Details on the full driver lineup for the Rolex 24 will be revealed at the Daytona Test Days on Jan. 4-7.