Quiet Confidence for Michael Shank Racing ahead of Rolex 24 Battle DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2008) -- Having set the fastest times of the day on two of the three days of January testing for the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona, Michael Shank...
Quiet Confidence for Michael Shank Racing ahead of Rolex 24 Battle
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2008) -- Having set the fastest times of the day on two of the three days of January testing for the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona, Michael Shank Racing is a team that likes its chances this year. In the last two editions of this grueling event, the Ohio-based team showed that it was more than capable of running at the front.
A runner-up spot by the No. 60 car was well earned in 2006, and 2007 was a case study in speed, if not reliability. Now making a Rolex race debut with Roush-Yates Ford power and the latest Riley Mark XX aero kit, the two-car Michael Shank Racing crew is confident in the face of the enormous challenge that this mythical twice around the clock challenge presents.
The No. 6 Ford-Riley machine will be piloted by full Rolex season drivers John Pew and Ian James, joined by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger and young Grand-Am Series veteran Burt Frisselle. On the other side of the tent is the No. 60 Ford-Riley entry comprised of Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson, joined by Champ Car stars Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal.
It was Allmendinger who topped the time sheet on the second day of testing with lap of 1:41.555 (126.198 mph) good enough to be the third best over the course of the three-day test. Negri put the distinctive Michael Shank Racing colors at the head of the field the following morning with a best time of 1:42.147 (125.466 mph). With the team's impressive pace in practice, team owner Mike Shank is confident, but he's not taking anything for granted.
"Preparing for the fifth time this team has taken on the 24, we are as ready to go as we've ever been," said Shank. "We've looked at every aspect of our program-from our pit carts to how we get the most out of the engineering tools Ford Racing is bringing to the table, and we're just excited to put all this preparation to good use. We have fast, smart, capable drivers in both cars. We just want to qualify well, get into a rhythm, stay out of trouble, and then when the sun comes up, go racing. Anything can happen in this race, but what's absolutely key is staying out of the garage, plain and simple."
Allmendinger returns to the Rolex 24 hoping that three is a charm. He was a part of the effort that finished runner-up in 2006 and demonstrated his natural knack for speed in 2007 with another storming run to the front before motor issues sent the car behind the wall and out of contention.
"This team is better every time I come back to the Rolex 24, and the car is faster than it's ever been," said the California native. "I really like being in this environment-Mike (Shank) is a racer to the core, and that shows in how everyone on this team just gets on with the job. Finishing second in this race in 2006 was satisfying, but at the same time, it's not enough-we're all here to win and that's what we are focused on."
Allmendinger's co-pilot Pew doesn't have the same lap count in a Daytona Prototype at the track as he does, but Pew, who took fourth in the Brumos 250 event last July, has seen the 24 unfold from behind the wheel of a GT car, and will be looking to put that experience to use.
"I think that with so many cars so evenly matched in this race, a huge factor is just going to be how you deal with the traffic out there," said Pew. "It's a completely different perspective with how you approach traffic in a Daytona Prototype from the GT cars, but I think having been in the GT car for this race will help me deal with the traffic since I know what it's like to have those lights coming at you full steam in the mirror!"
James and Frisselle round out the driver grouping for the No 6 entry bringing the speed and consistency necessary to be at the front after a day and night of racing. Both are Daytona Prototype experts with the proven credentials that will anchor this team.
"This is a great chance for me to start the Rolex season off with a good result and get the championship started on the right foot," offered Frisselle, who took a career-best of fifth in the 24 last season. "Having Ford power with the Roush Yates guys here to get the most out of what this package is capable of is a big help, and you really couldn't ask for more as far as this driver lineup goes. We all have a lot of races together as drivers and as a team, so that should also help our communication and the teamwork that goes into this kind of race."
Full season 6 car pilot James, who with Pew had a breakout rookie season of Daytona Prototype driving last year, is another fast smart driver who has seen the 24 from a variety of angles.
"It takes so much to go right to get a good result in this race," said James. "But this team has done its homework, the drivers are good and even though we were just looking for a comfortable race car, we obviously had some good pace in testing so hopefully that's going to be a good start for us. Once we get to racing, its all about good decisions, keeping the pace, and keeping the car looking like it does when it rolls off the grid and we have the drivers to do just that, and the team to back us up for 24 hours."
In the No. 60 camp, Mark Patterson and regular season co-driver Oswaldo Negri will kick off 2008 looking to repeat how they closed out 2006-- with a victory.
For Patterson, it's not just a second Trueman Award-winning performance he has in mind for 2008, but more race-wins and overall honors as well and top performance at the Rolex 24 would certainly be a boon toward those efforts.
"This is a fantastic team, but it's clear that Mike (Shank) has raised everything yet another notch as we look at starting 2008 off right," said Patterson. "We had some bad luck in this race last year but still fought to the finish, and of course it was a tremendous experience in 2006 to be on the Rolex podium and nearly win the thing. This race will likely be even closer than it was last year, but this team knows how to get it done, and with Graham and Justin jumping in with Oz and I, we feel like we have as good a shot as any of the top contenders."
Despite new tires, a new motor, and a different aero configuration, it didn't take Negri long to find his rhythm once again after setting the fastest lap of third day of testing, setting the fast time without really going for it.
"This car is so stable, everywhere you need it to be-braking, the speed you can bring at turn in, and getting the power down is such an improvement with the Pirellis," said Negri. "That's going to make for a really exciting race because everyone has to keep a good pace, but when it comes time to push, this tire really gives the driver a lot of control and the ability to get a lot out of the car. We have a lot of confidence in our new Ford-Riley package and with the experience we've gained here the last couple of years, we are optimistic about this race."
Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal will trade their wind-in-your-face single-seat racers for the confines of the closed cockpit Daytona Prototypes to round out the No. 60 entry. This entry is filled with racing giants in more ways that one. Patterson, Wilson and Rahal all stand well over 6 foot tall leaving Negri as the only under 6-footer on the line up. 2008 marks Wilson's second attempt at the 24 in the No. 60 car.
"This is a big race and it's a great way to get 2008 started with a lot of time behind the wheel," said Wilson. "I'm happy to be back with Mike Shank and to be sharing the car with Mark and Oz-they are great guys and of course, extremely good with this car. Graham is another good addition with his speed and the way he's brings a real logical approach to driving this car. Anything can happen of course, but I'm optimistic about our chances. It'd be great to see what the view from the top step of the podium is like!"
Rahal will also be making his third Rolex 24 start, but only his second in the DP class and his first with MSR. Despite his short history with the Shank organization, Rahal has adapted easily and is looking forward to his second attempt at overall 24 victory.
"This is just one of those races that you want on your resume as a driver," said Rahal. "There are so many great drivers here with great teams backing them up, but Mike (Shank) and his guys know what they are doing. It takes a whole lot more than just a fast race car to finish well in this race and with the driver line up we have and this team behind us, we feel like we could well win the thing."