Atlanta, Ga. – The GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series made its debut at historic Road Atlanta on Saturday and Michael Shank Racing delivered two strong performances with the No. 6 and No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Rileys in the 2.75-hour event, Round 4 of the 2013 championship - finishing fourth and seventh, respectively.
The team was immediately quick off the hauler during Thursday’s test, with the No. 60 setting the quickest time during the second session of the day. The Michael Shank Racing squad continued to show strong speed throughout the weekend as Pizzonia and Yacaman led final practice Saturday morning in the No. 6.
Unfortunately, the team was unable to take advantage of that speed in qualifying when the session was cancelled due to rain on Friday afternoon. The grid would be set by championship point order, slotting the No. 6 ninth with the No. 60 just ahead in eighth.
Yacaman opened the race from the fifth row and ran among the top-10 throughout his entire opening stint. He ran as high as third before pitting to hand the car over to Pizzonia to take to the finish.
Pizzonia continued to run among the top-10 as he set quick lap times and began catching the pack of cars fighting for fourth and fifth positions. Though new to GRAND-AM and the Road Atlanta circuit, the former F1 pilot was able to capitalize in the late-race battle and took over the fourth position in the waning laps of the race.
Pew opened the race in the No. 60 machine and his years of experience in the open wheel ranks at the Road Atlanta facility showed when he ran a very strong opening stint with a quick and consistent pace. Pew ran as high as fourth before pitting to hand the Ford-Riley over to Valiante.
Valiante, who logged plenty of laps around the 2.54-mile Atlanta road course during the weekend, having also competed in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge event, ran lap times as quick as the lead pack of cars, but the long green flag run made it impossible for the Canadian to make up track position as he brought home a seventh place result.
“It’s just a disappointment that they didn’t throw any yellows,” said team owner Mike Shank. “It was all a track position game today. A yellow would have put the 60 car right back in contention. Both cars’ paces were very good.
It was all track position, and we could not get track position today. Antonio drove a phenomenal last stint. So for the parts that we had control over, I’m really happy with the team and how everyone worked.
The pit stops were great. Obviously, do we want to be at the sharper end and are we capable of that? No question-yes. The pace is good, the drivers are good, we’ve just got to position ourselves a little better.”
While there might seem to be a big gap on the calendar before the next Rolex Series race, there is no down time for Michael Shank Racing as the team plans to continue to work and improve the program ahead of the GRAND-AM race in Detroit the weekend after Memorial Day.
Gustavo Yacaman, No. 6 Ford-Riley: “It was a really good run. Half an hour before the end, we weren’t too happy with where we were, and the last five minutes, Antonio just turned it up a notch and brought home a P4, and that’s 100% his credit.
He did a great job there at the end. I still need to work a bit on the pace, I’m lacking a little pace at the beginning, so we’re going to work on that. We need to improve. We finished P4, but we’re not satisfied, we want to be constantly fighting for the podium and eventually for race wins.”
Antonio Pizzonia, No. 6 Ford-Riley: “The way we decided to go with the set-up, we were expecting the track to get better sooner than it did. So basically, our car only got competitive over the last 20 laps or so. We were expecting that maybe after the first stint we’d have that sort of balance, but unfortunately that didn’t happen, but that’s how racing is.
But, I’m really happy with the progress, we’ve been progressing step by step. I think we were pretty strong here, we were quickest in the warm-up this morning. We need to improve on some areas where we know we are losing time, and I’m confident that the team will do a good job.
We have a two-day test before the next race where we’re planning to do a lot of things to the car, a lot of new things, and hopefully we’ll be stronger at the next race.
John Pew, No. 60 Ford-Riley: “We needed another yellow to bunch things up a little bit and make it more interesting. I was watching Frisselle up in front of me, and trying to keep the same distance to him and I think I did that, and give the car to Michael (Valiante) in a decent place.
The problem we all were having—especially Michael and me—was the rear tires. They would go off fairly quickly and you’d really have to manage the power down, and towards the end of the stint they were pretty bad.”
Michael Valiante, No. 60 Ford-Riley: “It’s tough when you don’t have the track position. We needed a yellow to pack things up. The car was definitely fast enough to run with the leaders, we just had to play a bit of catch up. And I think we finished the best we could have possibly finished today.”