Michael Shank Racing Run at front of Grand Prix of Miami ends short of podium finish

Homestead, FL (5 March 2011)- Despite a strong pace and team performance that saw both team cars leading the race, the Grand Prix of Miami didn’t net the results that Michael Shank Racing had been hoping for on Saturday.

#60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley: Oswaldo Negri, John Pew
#60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley: Oswaldo Negri, John Pew

Luis Betancourt

The No. 23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing entry of Mark Blundell and Michael Valiante backed up the entry’s strong run at Daytona with a run to sixth at the checkered flag.

The No. 60 Crown Royal XR machine was classified ninth at the finish of the 2.75-hour race following a late-race penalty as GRAND-AM interpreted a car spinning into Negri as being avoidable contact.

The team had a strong start and both entries made up positions before the race settled into a rhythm. A full course caution saw Pew turn the machine over to Negri as Blundell stayed out. On the restart, Blundell continued his upward mobility and was up to third before being hit by the 01 machine on lap 32. The 01 was penalized for the contact, but the incident caused a significant loss of track position and forced the team to adapt an alternative pit strategy. Blundell turned the car over to Valiante on a subsequent stop deeper into the race.

The fleet Canadian raced from one lap down to move all the way to the front of the pack on lap 88, leading 13 laps before teams with fresher tires took over the point as Valiante was forced to accept a sixth place finish after a very promising start.

The No. 60 Crown Royal machine was also in strong form as Negri balanced the speed needed to run to the front with the awareness that tire conservation was key. Unfortunately, despite leading laps once again at his home track, contact with another car that was spinning led to a penalty for Negri, who also suffered damage to the car in the incident.

The machine was classified ninth at the finish, and will look to improve in the team championship standings at Barber Motorsports Park.

“It was a great race,” said Valiante. “We just got out of sync on tires early on and we gambled. It’s just frustrating. For once it would be nice to have a fairytale ending when we’ve had tough times. But we led and It wasn’t a bad weekend overall. I think it was a good showing for United Autosports and hopefully the speed that we showed and the pace that we had leads to some more races this year.”

“It was an eventful day,” said Blundell of his second career Rolex Series start. “We drove up to P2 on the racetrack and then we got kind of hurt a little with the tire life and the heat cycles with the yellows. And then we got knocked off by the 01 car which in my book was totally unnecessary because there was no need to have done it. It cost us time and it cost us a lot of track position. Michael did a very good job - we were out of sync strategy wise - we had a yellow and got a lap back and then he led for a period of time but we just didn’t have the tire grip in the end. The guys that finished in front of us were just on fresher tires. Overall, still top-six and we’ve come away with a semi-smile on our face...but we know there’s a lot more to come.”

“The run-in with the 01 at the beginning hurt our chances and from there on we were off-sequence [with pit-stops] and that really effected the situation late in the race,” said team owner Mike Shank. “We just didn't have enough tire, or luck, at the end. It is frustrating to have the kind of pace that we did with both cars today and not come out of here with more points, but hopefully we can get some momentum going at Barber.”

“The start went okay, but soon after the tires developed a push,” said Pew. “Thereafter it became a tire management issue, which was the same for everyone. For the rest of the stint I matched the pace of everyone around me and I was pretty happy with the car and our pace. The pit stop went fine. Unfortunately, the outcome is very disappointing because Ozz (Negri) obviously had the pace. To have our car lead was very encouraging, but we just need to be there up front at the finish so that’s what we’ll look to do at Barber.”

“I am extremely disappointed,” said Negri. “I have no other words that would be polite to say. We were in the braking zone and the No. 90 was already sideways before he hit me. I had a really good pace and the car was really strong. The restart (on lap 86) was really good and I opened a gap right away, but I had to manage the tires. So I eased on the pace a bit, and in Turn 8, my teammate, Michael (Valiante) came up on the inside. I wasn’t going to close the door on my teammate. Unfortunately, I had to give him room on the outside where there were I got a lot of tire pick up, and it took a few laps to clean them off. We should have finished in the Top 3 or 4.”

Michael Shank Racing will return to Rolex Sports Car Series action at Barber Motorsports Park April 7-9 for round three of the 2011 championship.

-source: msr