Justin finishes 7th in Rolex 24 At Daytona
30-January-2011 - Justin and team-mates AJ Allmendinger and Michael McDowell finished 7th in the 49th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race that featured the full roller-coaster of endurance racing emotions from tantalising glimpses of a podium finish to concerns about making it to the chequered flag. The three drivers and the entire Michael Shank Racing team gave it their all and the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Continental Tire Flip For Four Ford-Dallara led 32 laps and was in podium contention for the first 16 hours of the race. But throttle and suspension problems saw them drop laps to the leaders when the sun came up on Sunday morning and while a late-race repair allowed them to claw back some of the deficit, there was too much ground to make up. They finished 2 laps down to Chip Ganassi Racing who took 1st and 2nd, with defending Rolex 24 champion team Action Express Racing rounding out the podium.
Twenty four hours of racing kicked off at 3.30pm on Saturday with AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel of the No. 6 Dallara-Ford. Throughout the first two hours, the car was able to circulate comfortably within the Top-10, the only drama being a cut right rear tyre.
Justin took over at 5pm and by the three hour mark the No. 6 was running in second place overall. Justin remained behind the wheel until 7.20pm when Michael McDowell took over and the car continued comfortably in the top-10 until AJ began his second double stint just before 9pm.
By quarter distance, the No. 6 car had experienced no major dramas and had spent considerable time running in second overall. The cooler conditions seemed to suit the Dallara's set-up and during AJ's second run the 6 car moved into the lead, staying at the point until he pitted on lap 189. It was then Justin's turn to enjoy time at the head of the race before pitting from P1 to hand over to Michael on Lap 269.
About an hour later, on lap 303, Michael pitted for routine service, only to come back in on lap 305 due to some unsettling vibrations. A new set of Continental Tires were quickly fitted and fortunately this transpired during one of the 23 full course caution periods, limiting the damage to track position.
The 6 car fell two laps back during the wee hours of Sunday morning when AJ brought the Dallara in for a brake change, but AJ was able to claw back one of those two laps before handing over to Justin at around 4am. As dawn approached in the 15th hour, a dense fog rolled in, causing the longest yellow caution period in the event's history. Justin and the team worked the yellow to get back on the lead lap, during which time they also did routine replacements of front and rear brake pads while remaining on the lead lap. From darkness to light, the field cruised behind the pace car for two hours and forty seven minutes.
Justin handed the car over to Michael just before 7am and the race finally went green again at 8am on lap 481. The No. 6 car stayed with the leaders for a while, but as the fog burned off, the pace dropped off. Throttle cable issues had slightly blunted the car's pace during the night, but a broken rear tie rod with less than four hours to go dashed any hope the team had left of fighting for the win. AJ took over at 9am and 50 minutes later brought the car in for repairs at the same time as taking on fuel.
The fix brought major improvements to the car's handling, but at the cost of 2 laps to the leaders and this limited the 6 car's potential to make any significant headway in terms of track position as the pace hotted up in the closing stages. Justin took the wheel at 11am and managed to claw a lap back under yellow before handing off to Michael around noon for a single stint. AJ then took the wheel at 1.45pm for the final double stint to bring the car to the finish in seventh place, two laps down on the leader.
"It's been a long 24 hours," said Justin. "Everybody at MSR has been working hard and kept fighting and we have the satisfaction of knowing that everybody did a great job. Unfortunately it wasn't quite good enough for the win, but we gave it everything we had. AJ and Michael did a perfect job in the car so I'm pretty happy. It was a strong pace, but the biggest surprise was the number of incidents there were; you always get that here at Daytona, but a lot of really good cars were racing hard early on and took themselves out of contention, so that kind of set the tone for the whole race. I've had some strong finishes here in the past so I want to come back here next year and win it - that's definitely the plan."
The No. 6 car was part of a three car effort by Michael Shank Racing. While the 6 car was struggling to get back in contention during the closing stages, the MSR team charge was led by the No. 23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Johnnie Walker/ FXI/ UBS Ford-Riley of Mark Patterson, Zak Brown, Martin Brundle, and Mark Blundell. For a time the 23 car looked like it might manage a podium and but took the chequered flag with a still-impressive fourth place finish. The result also netted Brown the prestigious Jim Trueman Award for the top Pro-Am effort.
The No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford-Riley of John Pew, Ozz Negri, Marc Goossens, and Michael Valiante finished tenth after overcoming a number of frustrating setbacks through the race distance.
"I'm proud of the effort of this team," said Mike Shank of his 3-car campaign. "We didn't leave anything on the table. It wasn't what we were hoping for, but with the conditions and pace and how hard everyone was going at it, we have to be happy to have all three cars finish even if it wasn't where we wanted them to be in the result. "