The little team that can, does, and scores their second podium of the season "What I love about racing in this category is that if you have clever engineers, good drivers, and a solid team working on the car, you can be competitive week in and...
The little team that can, does, and scores their second podium of the season
"What I love about racing in this category is that if you have clever engineers, good drivers, and a solid team working on the car, you can be competitive week in and week out no matter what your budget is."
Award-winning team owner Mike Shank's comment to a journalist just before the Sahlen's 200 at the Glen proved prescient, as the underdog Michael Shank Racing team put all three things to work to earn their best finish of the season with a strong second-place run to the podium to the delight of the team and the Grand Am paddock, which has developed an enormous amount of respect for what the team has been able to do with a limited budget in just their first season of Rolex competition.
The second visit of the season for the Rolex Sports Car Series to the famed Watkins Glen International facility brought plenty of highs and lows for the MSR squad as the weather bounced between heavy rains and dry conditions in the practice sessions in advance of the race. Drivers Burt Frisselle of Kihei, Hawaii and Brazilian-born Miami resident Oswaldo Negri, Jr., had found the sweet spot in the MSR Lexus-powered Doran in wet conditions, but were less confident about the dry handling of the car. The qualifying session was cancelled due to heavy rains, setting the field by team championship points, giving the 6 car fourth on the grid.
The race started in dry conditions, and despite uncertainty about the cars dry set-up, Oswald Negri had a very strong first stint, keeping the car within just seconds of the leaders while fending off several charges from NASCAR's Tony Stewart for fourth place. Heavy rains came on lap 34, and Negri was able to get the car safely back to the pits for a driver change and a switch to wet tires as several other competitors went off track in the difficult conditions, bringing out a timely full course yellow.
Frisselle took the wheel of the 6 car during the pitstop, which was quick enough to move the 6 car into third position. On the restart, he held position and staged a monster battle with former Formula One star and eventual winner Jan Magnussen before finally ceding fourth place on lap 50. Frisselle kept in touch with the leaders, but felt as though he might have over-worked his rain tires in the drying conditions.
"I keep learning more every lap I am in the car, and I definitely learned a lot today!" said Frisselle. "I worked the rain tires too hard on the first part of my stint and overheated them and began to go backwards a little bit. But I was fighting with the Ganassi car, and followed his lead to change my line and keep the tires cool."
The changing conditions proved to be a challenge for the entire field, and a full course yellow on lap 59 for a stranded car provided the team with a perfect opportunity to make the brave move to slick tires. Frisselle rejoined the field in seventh place on lap 63 and on the restart was some thirteen seconds back to the leader.
Frisselle quickly to put his advantage to work, dispensing with the Porsche traffic on his way to reeling off some of the quickest laps of the field at that point in the race, reducing the gap to the leader by up to three seconds a lap and at one point going three wide to make a double pass for position. Frisselle kept his cool, streaking by everyone to move into second place behind Magnussen, but ran out of laps in his pursuit of the lead to score the best finish of the season to date for the small Ohio-based team.
"The last laps were really exciting-we went from seventh to second in ten minutes, running on a drying track in the dark making passes everywhere! Its just an unbelievable result for the team-which has worked so incredibly hard to give us the best car possible, and so its great to be able to get it to the podium for them and for Mike."
The victory podium celebrations were a happy release for the team, which has seen its fair share of luck go someone else's way this season. Frisselle, Negri, and Shank were bombarded by congratulations from fellow competitors.
"Unbelievable!" said a smiling Mike Shank with the teams trophy in his hands. "This result finally shows the gains we have been making all season. Our engineers-Dale Wise and Dale Kanning-made a great decision with Burt to go to slicks-we took a big gamble, and it paid off big time! This is the first race since Homestead that the luck has gone our way and that we haven't been knocked off track. Burt and Oswaldo once again did a great job in the car, and getting second is fantastic for all my guys who work so hard to make this happen on a very limited budget."
Negri was also excited about the result, and felt like it finally matched the hard work the team has done all season.
"I am so happy and proud to drive for this team-we put so much effort into every session, and we just haven't had the results to show for it, so this is absolutely fantastic," said Negri. "The car was much better in the dry than I thought it was going to be, so it was a nice surprise! Every race we are more and more competitive, and it showed here tonight."
The team is hoping to use the strong result to help develop the budget to keep racing this season, and will be doing everything possible to get to the next round at Homestead Miami Speedway in September.
Michael Shank Racing was formed in 1989 when Michael Shank first began driving racing cars professionally, taking the award as SCCA-Ohio Valley Region's Novice Driver of the Year. Shank retired from the cockpit in 1997 after moving up the motorsports ladder to focus his efforts on running the team, which quickly found success in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, with several race wins leading Shank to be named as Team Owner of the Year twice in four years. MSR has campaigned drivers including Johnny Rutherford Jr., Kenny Wilden, and 2001 and 2002 Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish, Jr.
MSR is making the transition to the Rolex Series from open-wheel competition for the 2004 season in the Rolex Sports Car Series, campaigning a Lexus-powered Doran JE4.