Virginia International Raceway
Michael Shank Racing Scores Sixth at VIR
Danville, VA -- Michael Shank Racing drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri shook off some challenging weather and a brief off-course excursion to score a lead-lap sixth place finish in the Bosch Engineering 250 at VIR on Saturday in round four of the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship. The result matches the previous round finish as the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford-Riley avoided any of the significant trouble that befell some competitors and added a solid collection of championship points as the team looks forward to the next race at Lime Rock Park.
Starting from seventh on the grid, Pew had arguably the toughest assignment of the day as he took the green flag as the rains were teeming down, with the team radars all reflecting the yellow and green of the storm in the area. The tricky conditions were nearly impossible, with the Ganassi machine making contact with another car directly in front of Pew exactly as the green flag dropped.
“It was really really hard to see much of anything out there,” Pew said with a sense of relief having emerged from the action perfectly unscathed. “If you touched the curbs even a little bit, it was like ice and it’d completely unsettle the car. So you had to be careful, and the visibility was making it a big, big challenge.”
Pew’s never-ending improvement, also on display during Friday’s qualifying session, saw him not put a wheel wrong despite the intense pressure at the start. But others weren’t so lucky, as cars began to spin off track even before the green flag flew. And once it did, there were several cars that lost the battle for grip and were soon flying off toward the tire barriers. The multiple incidents caused a full-course caution to recover the cars and to also give the track the chance to lose some of the standing water that was rapidly becoming a threat.
The race marked the new fuel capacity regulations for the Daytona Prototypes, and was set to feature an increase in pit stops. The first of those stops for Michael Shank Racing came as the field was still working through the conditions before going back to green as Ozz Negri moved to the controls in the Crown Royal machine.
The inclement weather and changing conditions added yet more dynamics to the new pit strategies. Michael Shank Racing could well be fervently in favor of the new rules as no matter rain or shine, one thing was clear as the crew on pit wall delivered a strong performance time after time, scoring several positions on pit lane.
The field moved from the Continental Tire rain tires to slicks as the rains first slowed, then stopped, and then the track began to dry. On multiple occasions, Negri was the fastest guy on track as the conditions continued to change, lap after lap. With a string of yellows interrupting the action, the stage was set in a series of restarts. Negri had a brief moment as he tried an outside pass, but the effort pushed the limits of adhesion just enough to see him slide off track. Fortunately, it was just a matter of lost track position as he fought back to come home sixth at the finish, ironically under sunny skies.
The pit guys, man, they did a great job for us again today.
“I had to try that move,” said Negri with a smile. “The cars behind me were not on the same lap, so I had to push to see if I could get the position, there was nothing to lose. It was very tricky because there was only one dry line so to do anything, you had to run on the wet part a little bit. I tried, but it didn’t work out and I was able to get back on track, no problem. John did an amazing job to keep the car on track and hold position there in the early parts of the race. It was really treacherous but fortunately he didn’t put a wheel wrong. The pit guys, man, they did a great job for us again today. We were hoping for more from the weekend but this is some solid points and now, on to Lime Rock Park.”
“It was not pretty out there at the start, but John handled it like a pro,” said team owner Mike Shank. “We played the tire strategy just about right--it was hard to make the call about when to go to slicks, but Ozz did a great job. We had some awesome pit stops and hopefully we can keep doing that and make the most of these new rules. Considering everything that we dealt with after the race started, to be coming out of here with some solid points and a car that just needs to be washed--and not fixed--is pretty good and we can definitely build on that in the next two races.”
Many on the team were thinking of Sid Brenner, a Skip Barber Racing supporter who passed away recently.