A good day gone bad for Michael Shank Racing at Laguna Seca (Monterey, CA) 7 May 06-- With less than thirty laps to go in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational, things were going exactly according to plan for Michael Shank Racing, as Oswaldo Negri...
A good day gone bad for Michael Shank Racing at Laguna Seca
(Monterey, CA) 7 May 06-- With less than thirty laps to go in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational, things were going exactly according to plan for Michael Shank Racing, as Oswaldo Negri led the field in the Flight Options Lexus/Riley, and the sister Mears Motor Coach of Antoine Bessette and Mike Borkowski also ran firmly in the top ten.
However, when the fifth full course caution period of the race was called, the Flight Options machine was already heading full speed into turn one as the pace car began to roll from pit lane.
The Grand Am officials declared that Negri was to blame for the pace car not catching him as he led the field, and penalized the team by sending it to the back of the pack, meaning that the leading car was demoted some eighteen positions and out of contention for the podium or a possible win.
"It's really disappointing," said team owner Mike Shank. "Both cars were obviously very competitive today, and to have it all thrown away by a tough call by the officials is very frustrating."
Mark Patterson started the race from the front row after Negri scored second in Saturday's qualifying race, and the South African kept the pace and in the lead pack despite not getting off to an ideal start.
"I'm not sure why the pole sitter had us basically at a walking pace at the start, but it didn't help us out at all because the car in third was already ahead of me before I even made it into the first turn," said Patterson. "But once everything settled down, I was able to stay in the lead group no problem and I was really having a ball out there because the car was just handling beautifully."
The Mears Motor Coach car of Antoine Bessette and Mike Borkowski started from tenth on the grid as Bessette made his first Rolex Sports Car Series start, holding station at the start before making inroads to the lead pack, including pulling off an impressive outside pass in turn ten.
"Antoine did a fantastic job," said Shank. "He was patient when he needed to be, and then when he got his chances, he took them. Very smart in the car, and a great pace, so we were really excited about his run."
Shank wasn't alone in his excitement.
"This is fun," were the first words out of Bessette's mouth after turning the car over to Borkowski. "You have to be very careful out there because you are running very close with the other cars, but you can't mistake that for a chance to pass just because you are close-you really have to set up a pass to do it cleanly in the traffic. It was also different for me because I had to keep in mind saving the car a little bit for Mike (Borkowski), so it was a different challenge than running in formula cars, and I really can't wait to race again soon."
Borkowski and Negri both took over the controls during a caution period thirty laps into the event, and the two charged up the order from twentieth and twenty-first, with Negri clearing his way to the lead by lap sixty before the problem with the pace car.
"It's a shame to be officiated out of a win like that," said Patterson. "Clearly Oz was in control of the race, so to have all this work taken away is very disappointing."
Negri, who has four Rolex podiums to his credit but is still chasing his first win in the category, was equally frustrated by the turn of events.
"I don't understand it at all," said a mystified Negri. "It completely ruined our race and a chance at a win today. The car was perfect, the crew did a great job, and I know we would have been strong at the end, but I guess it just wasn't our day today."
Borkowski was also dealt his share of bad luck, as a competitor crashed into him late in the race, sending him off-track. Making matters worse for the team, Negri was coming back from the penalty and had to go off-track to avoid Borkowski's car.
"I guess Valiante wasn't happy just sending the Ganassi car into the gravel trap, and wanted to do the same to me," said Borkowski. "Maybe he just didn't like that I'd passed him, I don't know, but he just crashed right into me. And poor Oz (Negri) was right behind us and he had to go off track to make sure I didn't hit him."
Both cars resumed racing, and charged to the finish, as Negri came up just two feet shy of a top-ten finish, with Borkowski coming home an unlucky thirteenth.
The team will once again get the chance for a strong result in less than one week, as the Gainsco Grand Prix will be staged on Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway. The team led the race convincingly last season, and will be looking to exact a measure of revenge at the track that owes them one next week.