Matt Bell and James Davison Join Michael Shank Racing
Michael Shank Racing will return to a two-car program in the next round of GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competition as the team has drafted two young talents to pilot the No. 23 Ford-Riley at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Matt Bell (25, California) and James Davison (24, Australia) will co-drive in round 8 of the 2011 championship.
The team opened the 2011 season with a three-car effort in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, netting top-10 finishes with all three entries and coming just feet away from scoring a podium finish with the No. 23 Michael Shank Racing with United Autosports entry as Zak Brown, Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, and Michael Valiante staged a thrilling run to the finish.
The No. 23 returned to action in the Homestead round with Blundell and Valiante sharing the driving duties for a sixth place finish. Michael Shank Racing then consolidated to focus on the No. 60 Crown Royal Extra Rare entry of John Pew and Ozz Negri, with the duo scoring another podium finish for the team recently at Lime Rock Park.
The return to a two-car program at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is nostalgic for Michael Shank Racing, since the team made its debut two-car Daytona Prototype effort at the track in 2005. That weekend saw Ozz Negri take a record-setting pole and score a top-10 finish with co-driver Mark Patterson. Patterson and Negri went on to take a podium finish in the Rolex 24 (2006) and score two Rolex Series race victories as Patterson became the first ever two-time winner of the prestigious Jim Trueman Award for Pro-Am drivers.
Returning to Laguna Seca with two rising stars has team owner Mike Shank excited as GRAND-AM returns to the track after a two-year absence. “It's great for GRAND-AM to be racing at Laguna Seca once again, and we're also looking forward to racing as a two-car team,” offered Shank. “It is exciting to have two young guys like Matt and James join us, and hopefully we can come out of the weekend with a strong result. We're also looking forward to making the most of the engineering opportunities that come with having two cars during the weekend. I want to thank Ford Racing for supporting our effort by having [Ford Racing engineer] Jeff Cristos with us for the weekend as well.”
The two racers have disparate racing backgrounds, but while they have followed distinct paths to the DP ranks, both drivers have shown a common talent for speed. Bell has firmly established himself as a fast qualifier and hard charger in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competition, scoring a record five poles in 2009 and two more poles in 2010. This Daytona Prototype start will be the fifth of Bell’s burgeoning career, having netted the Jim Trueman Award in his DP debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park last July, and again during his second drive at Miller Motorsports Park in September.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Bell attended racing school at Laguna Seca and still considers it his home track. Bell qualified on pole the last time he raced in GRAND-AM competition at the track, but an engine failure during co-driver Boris Said's stint dashed the podium hopes. This time around Bell is heading to Laguna Seca with the momentum of a fresh win in last weekend's GRAND-AM race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“Every time I get the chance to race a Daytona Prototype I want to do it again, so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity with Michael Shank Racing,” said Bell. “Although I've made countless laps around Laguna Seca in a wide range of cars, this will be my first time in a DP. It will also be a busy weekend, going back and forth between a Camaro GS.R and a Ford-Riley DP, and having both races on the same day. Mike Shank has built a great team, so I'm hoping this combination will result in James [Davison] and me standing on the podium at the end of the race.”
James Davison brings a deep familial racing pedigree as well as an extensive and successful single-seater background to the team. But the Rolex Series foray will not be his first, having impressed in his DP debut last year at Watkins Glen. “I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun driving and racing a Daytona Prototype was, and getting through the GT Class traffic was also a fun challenge,” said Davison, who finished on the podium in his most recent race at Laguna Seca in Star Mazda competition. “This is a different challenge compared to the sprints in single-seaters, because not only do you have the responsibility to your team as you normally do, you also have a responsibility to your co-driver in terms of keeping the car out of danger and being smart. This isn’t a single-man game."
“I’ve been working very hard to be racing in an elite level of motorsports,” said Davison. “I got to meet Mike [Shank] at Watkins Glen, and ever since, we’ve been working to find a way to work together. He runs a great team, and I very much appreciate the faith he is putting in me and my abilities. I have confidence that Matt and I will be competitive, and I’m looking forward to this opportunity. As a driver in this market, it is important to stand out and do a good job, to give team owners a reason to put me in the car over someone else, so I’m very motivated to do just that.”
The Continental Tire Sports Car Festival powered by MAZDA will open with a promoter test day on Thursday, July 7 with the 2.75-hour event set for a 5:30 PM (ET) green flag on Saturday, July 9.