While Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian still rides a high from their historic Rolex 24 win, driver Ozz Negri has even more to celebrate at this weekend’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event at Barber Motorsports Park, as the Brazilian driver is set to make his 100th Rolex Sports Car Series race start at the picturesque 2.3-mile Alabama road course.
Fresh off a dominating performance in the Rolex 24 with co-drivers John Pew, AJ Allmendinger, and Justin Wilson which saw the team win the prestigious 50th Anniversary running of the event, Negri has now been able to check off one of his greatest racing accomplishments with that historic victory as he approaches his 100th start.
“The 100th Rolex race is good at any track, but it is better at tracks like Barber especially at an event where we are so strong!” smiled Negri. “Barber is one of my favorite tracks, but when I get there I will treat it just like as if it was my first Rolex Race. I will be focused on doing well and trying to finish on the podium. We have a good car, no doubt about that, and we want to show again that we are an even stronger team after Daytona. It’s cool to reach this milestone, but it would be even cooler to have a strong result here!”
Negri has not just been an influence on the track, as his role with Michael Shank Racing has always been one that taps into his rich mix as a racer, consultant, coach, and non-stop optimist.
“I can’t even begin to describe what kind of influence Ozz has had on my team,” offered Team Owner Mike Shank. “He put this organization in position to win the 24, and it all goes back to 2004 when we first ran him and he got us on the podium in just our second Rolex Series race. Having such a long term relationship is a big accomplishment, and I think it says a lot about the people that we are associated with to have that kind of longevity and loyalty. Beyond being a hell of a driver, Ozz is an outstanding coach, and just a huge asset to this organization and I’m proud to have him on this team.”
Negri made his first GRAND-AM start in 2003, driving a Daytona Prototype at Daytona International Speedway for Cegwa Sport and a Porsche GT3 for Cunningham Racing in three events. He picked up three top-fives in his four GRAND-AM starts that year. In 2004, he returned to the seat of a Daytona Prototype when he joined Michael Shank Racing to team with Burt Frisselle, with the duo netting two podiums on the way to sixth in the season championship.
Though few had heard of the Brazilian ace at the time, by the end of the season he was the talk of the paddock having shown how he could do more with less in his first full season of Rolex competition.
At the end of that first season, Negri was named as the “Grand American Daytona Prototype Rising Star” in a survey of GRAND-AM teams and officials as well as a panel of media members.
Negri has remained a driver for Michael Shank Racing ever since and has played a key role in the success of the team as well as the race craft development of several co-drivers – including Mark Patterson and John Pew who each won two Pro-Am Championships while co-driving with Negri.
“Ozz is very competitive and has a tremendous work ethic,” offered Pew. “He never slacks off and is always thinking of better ways to do things. He's always thinking about the next race.There's a lot of fast drivers out there, but not many that are fast and can communicate to another driver what you have to do to be fast as well. Even when we have other fast pro drivers on the team, they respect him and listen to him as well. He's a real team player and gives everything for the team.
When asked to pick his personal favorite moment with Negri, Pew is hard-pressed to pick one. But the answer is far from surprising.
“So many memories and good times, it’s hard to pick one. Standing on top of the podium with Ozz for the 50th Daytona 24, I could not think of a guy that deserved this more. This (100th start) is a big milestone and he deserves it. I feel lucky to have him as a friend and a co-driver.”
Negri’s previous co-driver Patterson also has fond memories of his time racing with Negri.
“It was longstanding racing partner, John Pew, who introduced me to the Lizard of Ozz for the first time, at Road Atlanta. We were teammates in the Star Mazda series and John had been advocating for a driver coach, which I thought was preposterous at my humble level of racing, so declined to pay my share. After the first practice session under Ozz’s eye, John started racking up laps about 1.5-2 seconds quicker than mine and until then, we’d always been toe to toe. So I reached for my thinning wallet and immediately contributed my share of the professor’s expenses . . . and the rest is history.
"He’s a patient, selfless and tireless teacher – the best I ever learned from, no question. He’s the Barrichello of Grand Am racing – up there with Scott Pruett and Max Angelelli, but he stands above them in graciousness, always a smile and a kind thought to lift up your life - just like Max. By far the most impressive elements are his combination of focus, fitness and fanaticism about racing competitively.
When asked about his most prominent memory of Ozz, it's not surprising that Patterson picked a race that was also selected as the "Rolex Moment of the Year."
"When Grand Am first went to Salt Lake City’s demanding new Miller Motorsports track in 2006 and, without any lighting at all in a nine-hour race that ended in the pitch dark, where we were one of the very few two-driver teams (almost everyone else had a three-driver line-up), Ozz kept a blistering and uninterrupted attack by Max Angelelli at bay for the entire final stint to win the race for us,” said Patterson. “That was our first victory together…and for Michael Shank Racing in Grand Am.”
Since his first GRAND-AM start, Negri has collected 15 podiums, three wins and two pole positions. And while he may have just claimed his biggest win to date at this year’s Rolex 24, Negri has no plans to slow down anytime soon.