Michael Shank Racing shines in Rolex 24 Double top-ten result still a disappointment after strong performance from both team cars all weekend long (Daytona Beach, FL) 27 January 08 --The final standings for the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona will...
Michael Shank Racing shines in Rolex 24
Double top-ten result still a disappointment after strong performance from both team cars all weekend long
(Daytona Beach, FL) 27 January 08 --The final standings for the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona will show Michael Shank Racing as taking sixth and ninth in the Daytona Prototype results, but the numbers don't do anything to demonstrate the strength of the two-car team's Rolex 24 campaign to open the 2008 season.
Putting the new Roush Yates Ford power and Riley XX upgrade to excellent effect, Oswaldo Negri set a new track record in qualifying with the No. 60 Westfield Insurance Ford-Riley to score his second career Rolex pole in the entry he shared with Mark Patterson, Justin Wilson, and Graham Rahal. Underscoring the Columbus-based organizations strength, AJ Allmendinger set a time merely .009 of a second behind Negri's to start alongside on the front row in the sister No. 6 machine he co-drove with John Pew, Ian James, and Burt Frisselle.
In a race that plays no favorites and takes no prisoners, Michael Shank Racing started the event with both cars on the front row, established a strong presence at the front of the field early in the race, and never wavered through conditions that went from bad to worse on occasion as the famous green Rolex clicked off the seconds, minutes and hours on through the night.
The team emerged to be in a prime position to challenge for a victory late in the day before fate intervened, with only the eventual race-winning Ganassi team leading more laps than Michael Shank Racing. But after a series of setbacks, the team was forced to accept a double-top ten race result.
"We're tremendously proud of the qualifying effort we put together to have both cars on the front row, but we were of course looking for more out of the race itself," said team owner Mike Shank. "There just aren't words to describe the disappointment we're experiencing. We showed again that we have what it takes to be there on Sunday morning a shot at a win, but our luck just didn't last the whole day today."
The Westfield Insurance machine suffered from multiple tire issues, commencing with Rahal having to do a long slow lap after losing pressure early in his run. Despite the problems, the entry remained firmly in the sharp end of the field. As the race found its stride on Sunday morning, the Westfield Insurance campaign was further hampered after Wilson was forced into the barriers after a small wheel drop damaged the suspension and sent the hard-driving Briton into harms way.
"I'd been in the car for about 2hrs 45 minutes when it happened," explained Wilson. "I was pushing hard and trying to manage a high water temperature problem, and I ran about 6 inches wide coming out of Turn 1. I caught a hole, broke the suspension and spun across the grass. Up to that point the car was in pretty good shape and Mike and the guys did a great job as always. I'm just really disappointed that this cost us a possible podium."
The damage from the incident was significant and likely would have sidelined most teams, but a full-team rally in the garage to simultaneously repair both the entire nose and radiator sections of the car as well as the rear suspension damage soon saw the Westfield Insurance entry back on track and on its way to a top-six overall finish.
Conversely, the No. 6 entry avoided any significant trouble and emerged as a late contender in the morning hours as Frisselle put in an outstanding stint to trade the lead with Ganassi pilot Montoya.
However, as he was preparing to turn the machine over to James to resume the battle up front, a sickening cloud of white smoke emerged from the rear of the car at speed on the banking, signaling a severe mechanical issue and the end of a run for victory as Frisselle made a mammoth save to keep the machine from hitting the wall.
The setback wasn't only just a disappointment to MSR fans watching at home, as an audible groan emerged from the media center, stocked full with journalists from around the world who were clearly relishing witnessing MSR take the fight to the finish but also shared the team's disappointment with the outcome.
"It just breaks your heart to run up front all night and into the morning, and then to have something like this happen, it just kills me," said Frisselle. "This is a fickle race, and I just hate it for Mike Shank and all the guys on this team because they work so hard and should be rewarded with a good result in this race. My co-drivers did awesome jobs and we were ready to go to the finish and fight for a win, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be our day today."
The mechanical issue proved to be the bellhousing, which is a key component of the full rear structure. Once again, a setback that would have sent most teams packing for home merely became a rallying point for the squad, which got the car back on track and into the top ten for the finish of yet another grueling event.
"Both these Mike Shank teams will win races this year," predicted Allmendinger. "It was great to have a car that had no problem getting to the front, and this (mechanical problem) was the only thing that was going to slow us down. Burt drove a great stint and I'm really disappointed for Ian and John that we couldn't get them more points in the championship, but this team put an awesome effort together once again. I was ready to fight for the lead to the finish and know we had the car to do it, but unfortunately today just wasn't our day."
"The conditions were really tough out there-changing from lap to lap and just keeping you on your toes when you were looking to find the limit everywhere you could," said Pew. "I was happy with the car and I was able to just keep a good pace, stay on the lead lap in the top five, and in contention. This team has worked so hard, you just want to see them celebrate a win and with these first-string guys we had racing with us we obviously had a chance to do that. This race is such a challenge though and of course even though it hurts to have this outcome, it pushes you even harder to come back and go even better."
"What can I say? This team worked their butts off all during the off-season to be in this situation-ready to fight for a victory on Sunday morning," said Negri. "We did everything we could-starting on pole, being conservative when it was smart to be, adjusting to the conditions, making good pit calls, everything. But that's what makes this race so incredible, you can have that kind of preparation, speed, and team behind you, and we still are looking for more at the end of the day. We didn't get the win like we wanted, but I'm not one ounce less proud of this team. Its incredible to be in this environment, and it's something that I am grateful to be involved with every day. This is tough, but we're moving on and already thinking about Homestead."
"It's always fun to do this race but this one has been really disappointing," joined Rahal. "We did everything possible to win it but there are so many things that are out of your control during a 24-hour race and those things just didn't go our way today. The guys put together a great car and I was impressed with the team. I really want to win this race. I wish they ran it three times a year so I could have more chances at it!"
"This is my fourth run in this race, and my fourth finish which is truly remarkable," said Patterson. "No matter what, it's always worth it. It wasn't as much of a struggle with the violent ups and downs that we had last year, but it was certainly a shame what happened with Justin as he was doing a tremendous job for us. It's amazing how perfect you have to be in this race to get that watch. Starting on the front row with these co-drivers, we were certainly focused on a victory here today but now we'll look to the rest of the season and using this sixth place as a launching point in the championship."
"It was fantastic to be part of an effort that really had all the boxes checked off as far as being ready to fight for a win," said James. "Obviously we're all disappointed about the outcome here today but at the same time, once we get going again for Homestead and get into these sprint races, I think we're going to be strong and for us drivers knowing what we have the chance to do this season is tremendously exciting."
The initial disappointment of not scoring the victory slowly began to give way to optimism for the season ahead.
"I guess I should be happy with both these cars making it to the finish and being in the top ten and scoring some decent points to start the championship off, but of course you never are unless you are spraying champagne," said Shank. "I'm grateful to come away with the points that we do for sixth and ninth, but we were really here for new watches."