Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Michael Shank Racing headed West looking for a strong result in its return to a two-car effort at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. After a promising day that saw two young chargers impress alongside the experienced full-season pilots, with both team cars leading the race, it wasn't the hoped-for outcome in round eight of the 2011 GRAND-AM season for the team.
John Pew and Ozz Negri finished fifth in the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford-Riley, with the sister No. 23 Michael Shank Racing machine of young drivers Matt Bell and James Davison classified 11th in class at the finish.
Pew opened the 2.75-hour Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda from the ninth position and moved forward into fifth place before handing the controls to Negri. Despite quick pit work from the Michael Shank Racing squad, Negri rejoined the field eighth in line looking to make his way to the front. Working his way into the top-five prior to the first round of pit stops, Negri took the race lead before pitting for fuel only. Following the final pit stop, Negri worked his way back into the fifth position to mark the team’s fourth consecutive top-five finish of the season.
“The track was really slippery and we didn’t have the pace to move forward in the early stages,” said Pew, who returned to the site of his first-ever Daytona Prototype start. “So the conditions were not ideal, but Ozz got everything he could out of the car. It wasn’t what we wanted, but we just didn’t have the pace for a podium today. This is a great track, a beautiful part of the country and a great place to race. But unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be our day.”
“It was a tough race. I thought I was going to be able to get by the 5 car, but he didn’t give me the room I thought he was going to, so it was a tough move! I just couldn’t make it stick,” said Negri. “From there on, was just playing some catch up. We did everything we could to get as much out of the car today, but just didn’t have the pace over the long run. It’s another good points day, but we want more. We’ve won at New Jersey before, and hopefully we can do it again next time out!”
Bell, who scored his second consecutive Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport victory just prior to the start of the Rolex Series event, started the No. 23 Michael Shank Racing Daytona Prototype from the outside of the fourth row and advanced to fourth place within the first seven laps. As several teams began making their first round of pit stops, Bell ultimately progressed to third in the order before turning the car over to Davison who would return to the track in fifth place.
“It was great to race a Daytona Prototype on my home track, and I had a lot of fun today,” said Bell, of his third Daytona Prototype start this year. “It was kind of hard to jump into this car after the Continental race and really get everything out of it. But I just focused on doing my job and bringing the car back to James (Davison) in a good race-able condition and we did exactly that. He did a great job and we were right in the thick of it. This team is excellent and the guys were great to work with. Even though we didn’t get to finish the way we wanted, it was still a good day and hopefully we made a good impression.”
Davison would run steadily among the top-five and led his first laps in a Daytona Prototype before making the team’s final pit stop. As Davison raced against much more experienced competitors and pushed the car to remain at the front of the field, the No. 23 would lock up the left front tire going into turn one which eventually led to a cut tire with subsequent damage seeing the No. 23 machine unable to continue following damage to the front left suspension.
“To be honest, I just made a rookie mistake, but I was up there with the established drivers in this series, and I was running P4 and I felt relaxed behind the wheel, and my race fitness was good,” said Davison. “There came a point where I needed to push, in the final stint. And I just tried a little too hard. While I’m disappointed, I have to be happy with my performance as a rookie, my first race of 2011, to mix it up there with all the stars of this series. I didn’t expect to be in a position to lead the race, which for a rookie driver going in mid-way through the season with all these guys, it was something to be pleased about.”
“We had good first pit stops, and both cars led the race today so that was encouraging. I’m really pleased with the job that Matt and James did for us today,” said team owner Mike Shank. “I think they both made a really good impression and were certainly on the way to a top-five. We just lost some track position with the 60 car and that was really hard to make up today. We will see if they do anything about the No. 10 car with the penalty and see what effect that has in terms of how everything shakes out points-wise. Other than that, we'll just focus on getting Ozz and John back on top at New Jersey in a couple of weeks."