Monterey, Calif – Mike Shank isn’t a gambler, but he’s certainly not afraid of taking a risk, particularly when there is a big reward to be won.
For the fourth time this season, a bold strategy call from the Michael Shank Racing engineers saw the Rolex 24-winning squad make a significant leap up the order.
Sunday’s Continental Tire Sports Car Festival was no different as engineers Dale Wise and Jeff Schaffner made a big strategy call to move Ozz Negri to the front of the pack as Michael Shank Racing led 37 laps on the way to finishing fourth at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The result earned John Pew yet another Trueman Award and marked the team’s fifth top-five finish at the California track.
Pew began the race from the fifth row and immediately moved up to seventh position in the opening laps as he once again showed a strong and consistent pace behind the wheel of the No. 60 LiveOn.com Ford-Riley machine.
When the first of the race’s two full course caution periods was displayed just 12 laps into the race, some teams opted to make their first pit stops, but the Shank crew kept Pew out on track in hopes of gaining some valuable track position.
Unfortunately, the return on that call was diminished when the No. 5 machine of Paul Tracy made an ambitious maneuver past Pew into Turn 1, shuffling the No. 60 offline and into the dirty side of the track. The loss of traction saw the two-time Pro-Am Champion lose several positions as he fought to regain grip with his Continental Tires.
Pew regained the lost ground enough so that he was soon pressuring the Ford-Riley being driven by current IndyCar racer Alex Tagliani. Still under green flag conditions, the Michael Shank Racing group called Pew in for a quick stop to rotate drivers and take on fuel and Continental Tires.
“It was exciting out there and the car was pretty good,” said Pew after accepting his Pro-Am trophy. “We struggled a little bit with the car. During my stint I just tried to take care of the car. At the restart it was mayhem and I just kept thinking ‘take care of the car, take care of the car’.
And then I was held up a little bit by the cars in front of me but Ozz did a fantastic job keeping the car up there. The team did a great job with the strategy as always. It was just a little bit short of the overall podium goal, but I’m happy to win the Trueman Award today. It’s been tough. This is the toughest Pro-Am year I’ve ever had – the Pro Am drivers this year are pretty tough, which I love.”
Negri strapped into the Ford-Riley machine and returned to the track 10th in the order. On Lap 28, the second full course caution was displayed and Negri once again brought the No. 60 machine to pit lane for fuel only.
A fast pit stop by the Shank crew saw Negri leapfrog the entire Daytona Prototype field as he inherited the race lead upon exiting the pits with the SPEED broadcast team remarking on the team scoring yet another strategy coup.
Negri led the field to the green on Lap 31 and never looked back as he extended his advantage over the entire field each lap – ultimately growing his lead to a nine-second advantage. He paced the field for 37 laps until he made a pit stop with just over one hour remaining for tires and fuel.
Another great stop by the Shank crew saw the No. 60 return to the track fifth in the order with Negri improving his gap to the leaders each time by.
As the remaining Daytona Prototypes cycled through their pit stops, Negri ran in the second position and battled with the No. 01 machine for the position – ultimately relinquishing the spot to run third.
With 50 minutes remaining in the 2.75-hour event, Michael Shank Racing made one final pit stop for fuel allowing Negri to take the No. 60 Ford-Riley all the way to the finish. He re-entered the field sixth but would climb back up the order with another stellar drive behind the wheel of the Daytona Prototype to run fourth at the finish.
Next up, Michael Shank Racing will travel to Lime Rock Park in three weeks for the final round of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Championship September 28-29.
“We always keep working,” said Negri. “Even after qualifying when John did an absolutely amazing job being only three tenths off of Paul Tracy and a tenth off Darren Law - two pro drivers. We kept working on the car and we did a few changes this morning and the car got better. In the race we had to do the strategy that we had to do. We led for a while and pushed really hard.
“The team did an absolutely amazing job as always. I mean this is the fourth race that they put me up front from dead last,” said Negri. “I just can't say enough about my team. My car was very, very consistent thanks to the great Continental Tire. I was taking those laps all the way to the the end.
I was able to pull away from the No. 9 car at the end. I was a little bit unlucky with traffic in the middle of the stint. What can I say about my crew? I just can't say enough about them. The tires did the job.
The car, the set-up did the job and it was pretty good. I'm happy with it. John did an amazing job. What about him pushing Tagliani at the beginning of the race? I just can't say enough about my teammate.”
“A really solid day for us,” said team owner Mike Shank. “We just weren't quite there at the end. Certainly had great pit work by the team. I'm really happy with what John and Ozz did - you know it just wasn't quite there at the end. A great strategy again. We got up to the front from being last to P1 in one stop.
It's just a tribute to the team and we'll just keep digging at it. At this point we want wins and we want podiums. We don't want to come here and run fourth, fifth, sixth. We're willing at this point of the year to take these kinds of chances with different strategies.
Besides, we've just developed a good rhythm with how these races kind of ebb and flow and know what we can do to calculate risk wise. Hopefully we can close the year off the way we started it.”
Source: Michael Shank Racing