(Columbus, OH) 3 October 2007--Michael Shank Racing team owner Mike Shank recently took a short break from preparations being made for the 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series season to talk about his team's progression after moving from open-wheel sprint...
(Columbus, OH) 3 October 2007--Michael Shank Racing team owner Mike Shank recently took a short break from preparations being made for the 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series season to talk about his team's progression after moving from open-wheel sprint car racing to the Rolex Sports Car Series.
Shank, who twice won "Team Owner of the Year" accolades in Atlantic competition, saw his team score another honor as their breakthrough win in the SunChaser 2006 season-ending race at Miller Motorsports Park was named as the Rolex "Moment of the Year" after fans selected the win over nine other eligible memorable moments.
The 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series season will un-officially get underway with testing at Daytona in November, but despite taking the final checkered flag of the 2007 season just a few weeks back, the Columbus-based squad is already deep in preparations for the upcoming season.
How did you get into Rolex in the first place?
"We'd been competing in the Toyota Atlantic Series for several years, but they were suffering through a bit if a downturn and the fact was, I had to go race somewhere else just to keep my guys doing something. We raced Renaults for a bit, kept a few race-prep projects going, and then in late 2003 I started looking at going endurance racing. The timing was good because the category was just blossoming and even though there were some established teams already, we were able to learn just like everyone else."
Is it true you mortgaged your house to buy the first Daytona Prototype?
"Yes!" (w/ a laugh) "My wife Marybeth and I took a pretty big flyer when we made that decision. All we'd ever done was sprint racing, and so this was all completely new to me and my guys. We showed up at the 24 with thirteen gusy, got some support from Kevin (Doran) to figure out the car, and just went from there.
"David Pijot at Suntrust helped me out big time. That was quite a gamble, but we had a decent season-we finished the 24 in 4th and then got on the podium a couple times with Oz (Negri) and Burt (Frisselle). We had that horrible crash at VIR and didn't think we were going to make it through that first season, but we did. It was a huge strain, but we made it to the end and then Paul (Mears) came on board and we never looked back."
You've had several gentleman drivers since joining Rolex.
"We've been lucky, no question. We've raced with some good guys. Paul (Mears) was a blast-this was purely something he did for fun, and he went about it with a fun attitude. He hated the technical stuff-and he'd tell you that-but he loved anything high speed. He was good at the Glen.
"He didn't complain much. I remember once at the Glen instead of telling me his car was crazy loose, he just said 'I think I'm the only guy turning left through there....' He was talking about turn one!"
"Then we rented that car for Mark (Patterson) at Laguna, and Oz got the pole and we finished in the top ten. So when Mark came on board full time, we grew to a two car team and were able to hang on to Oz. That transition was a critical one for this team-growing but keeping our quality of preparation and depth of talent consistent. Mark joining us full time was a huge part of that, he really helped push this organization to be a race winner in Rolex.
"He won the Trueman Award last year and I think he's the fastest gentleman out there. Except maybe for John (Pew)! John was a real surprise for us, I have to admit. But he stepped up big time this year with a couple really strong qualifying efforts, and he just got better and better every race out. I think Mark has set the standard as far as a good model to follow for guys like John-taking positive steps forward every session, every race weekend. And progression to where you are running ahead of Mark Martin like Mark did at Iowa! Hopefully we'll get the chance to work with John Pew more in the future.
"Ian (James) was another big surprise. We knew he'd won the ALMS P2 championship, but he'd been doing a lot of GT and KONI stuff and didn't have much experience in the Daytona Prototypes. But he helped keep moving that 6 car program forward along with (MSR Lead Engineer) Dale (Wise), and he's a great coach, too.
Finlay and Valiente joined the Ganassi team midway through the season, but both your pro-am driver combinations outscored them counting the same races. How does that make you feel as far as going up against a team like that?
"We were pretty proud of how we did. Rob (Finlay) showed with that run in Iowa (qual 4th) that he's got some speed, and everyone knows how quick Michael is--we raced against him in Atlantics--so to score more points than the Ganassi guys did with the same equipment, that was a good bonus for the guys and I think shows how strong this team really is. The fact is, if we had a pro/pro driver combination, we'd be competing for wins all the time.
You have a lot of guys working for you who have been there a long time. That's not a common situation for a lot of race teams, but when you start to look at successful organizations like Ganassi and Penske, it's the rule rather than the norm.
"My guys are loyal, they know what they are doing out there. This is a high-pride, low-ego group. We brought Erik Peterson in from Rahal late last season to help free me up to focus on the long term goals for the team, and it's worked out very well. We have great communication between the two cars from top to bottom, and that's another asset we have is how well everyone works together.
You guys moved base to a new shop before this season started. Did that cause any problems for you this season?
"No, we planned everything out--not only did we plan every square foot of the new shop and how it would be used, but we also had a plan in place so we didn't miss a beat with the move. And this shop-I'm proud of it of course-but the fact is, this is just another tool we have to be successful. We have the capability to do so much in-house, it just adds to our competitive advantage.
Paul Tracy, Justin Wilson, Helio Castroenves, Sam Hornish, AJ Allmendinger; You guys have raced with some serious talent and interesting characters at the 24--should we expect more of that in 2008?
"We hope so! It's been great to have a program in place where drivers of that caliber call us when they want to do the 24, and we are pretty excited about the group of guys we are talking to about this year. Getting as close as we did in 2006 (3.5 miles behind after over 2,000 miles of racing...), makes us confident we can do the same again but we just have to go one better!"
There are a lot of changes ahead for the Rolex Series--how are your plans for 2008 developing?
"We are looking at everything-every part of the equation. Race in and race out, this series shows how competitive and close it can be so every little thing matters. It's going to be interesting with new tires, new chassis upgrades, a lot of new things going on, so we want to make the right decisions here as we get ready for next year. We know we are a race-winning organization, but we have to have all the tools to do that."