Michael Shank Racing
Michael Shank Racing Finishes Fifth at Watkins Glen
Double top ten as No. 23 of Brown and Blundell come home ninth
Watkins Glen, NY (13 August 2011)-- Michael Shank Racing finished the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Canadian Tire 200 in fifth and ninth place on Saturday as the two team entries ran a flat-out pace in a race that set a new record for the highest-ever average speed in GRAND-AM history.
John Pew and Ozz Negri led the charge with a run to fifth in the No. 60 Crown Royal Ford-Riley, with the No. 23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing machine of Zak Brown and Mark Blundell coming home ninth in the duo’s first-ever Watkins Glen GRAND-AM race start.
Pew opened the race from behind the wheel, having scored eighth on the starting grid as his streak of strong qualifying efforts continued. Unfortunately, a near-melee in the first corner saw him elect to take the better part of valor and avoid trouble, but that cost him significant track position as he fell to 12th in the order. But he didn’t lose his cool, setting quick, consistent times until he was called into the pits for his first pit stop of the day. A quick two-tire stop put him back out on track 10th in the order. With the field clicking off laps at a record-setting pace, Pew moved up to second in the order before turning the machine over to Negri just as the two-hour race turned to the second half.
“The start caught me out a little bit,” said Pew. “I lost several spots, and that was frustrating, but I just had to put my head down and work my way back up into the traffic, just doing the best that I could. The two-tire change we did on my first pit stop worked really well because some of the other rubber was wearing away and I was able to move up a few spots. Ozz did another awesome job today, working it back up to fifth place. So it wasn’t the start that we wanted, but considering everything, it wasn’t a bad finish tonight.”
Returning to the order in seventh, Negri moved up to fifth before one final stop on lap 63 saw him set for a final push from eighth in the order. The relentless pace continued, with Negri finally making his last pass for position on the penultimate lap as he claimed fifth at the finish.
“We had a good, consistent car today,” said Negri. “Traffic was an issue. I tried to use it the best I could and not let it cost me too much time. When there wasn’t traffic, I just pushed as hard as I could and made the most of any free track that I had. Then I was able to pull the five in and get by. It was good to be able to race him without any issues, on his part and on my part. John did another great job for us today and now we’ll just keep pushing in Montreal and try to finish the year as strong as we can.”
The No. 23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing entry, which was making its third GRAND-AM start of the season, started the two-hour event from 11th on the grid with Blundell moving up to third just 33 laps into the event before turning the machine over to Brown, who carried the car through the middle stages of the race. Having only previously lapped the 2.45-mile circuit in a high-downforce, high-horsepower vintage machine, Brown quickly adapted to the Daytona Prototype as the compressed weekend saw his progression continue all the way through his stint.
“Watkins Glen is a difficult track and Mark and I don’t have very much experience in these cars, and given that the Series ran here recently for the 6 Hours, I think we were at a bit of a track time disadvantage,” said Brown. “Mark drove great like the pro that he is. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight! The team did a very good job. We’d all liked a little bit better result, but the car is in one piece, and we are in one piece. I am looking forward to Mid-Ohio, and hopefully with having tested there recently, a top five could be on the table.”
One final stop for a driver change once again set Blundell behind the wheel. Fighting from a disadvantaged track position, the Formula 1 and IndyCar veteran fought to the finish to bring the No. 23 machine home in ninth as he and Brown now set their sights on the season-finale race at Mid-Ohio.
“I don’t think the result reflected the pace of the car,” said Blundell, who acclimatized himself quickly with the high speed, high commitment circuit despite never having stepped foot at the track before the weekend. “I thought our performance was pretty reasonable, really, and Zak and I had an interesting weekend. It was tough for us both for many reasons. But from all of this, we’ve learned quite a lot. We came to Watkins Glen as rookies, and we’ve certainly come away with a lot of experience with what these cars do on this track. We’ve learned quite a bit, and I’m looking forward to Mid-Ohio already.”
“It was good to have a two-car effort again and we are all looking forward to having Zak and Mark back again with us at Mid-Ohio,” said team owner Mike Shank. “I think we had good pit stops today and there were good things that came out of both cars this weekend. John (Pew) ran another long, strong first stint and had us in a podium position before all the stops cycled out. We were hoping for a yellow given our track position, but it just never came. Zak and Mark, for never having been at this track, were just getting better all weekend long. Now they will be even more prepared for MId-Ohio and we are all looking forward to having a strong finish at Mid-Ohio, but right now we are focused on Montreal next weekend.”