Michael Shank Racing Heads North To Montreal (Columbus, OH) 26 August- Michael Shank Racing will return to the Circuit Gilles-Villenueve in Montreal this weekend for round ten of the 2009 Rolex Sports Car Series Championship as the series...
Michael Shank Racing Heads North To Montreal
(Columbus, OH) 26 August- Michael Shank Racing will return to the Circuit Gilles-Villenueve in Montreal this weekend for round ten of the 2009 Rolex Sports Car Series Championship as the series travels north to Canada.
After the team was once again quick in the opening sessions of the weekend at Watkins Glen, both Daytona Prototype entries suffered challenging opening race segments before running hard to the finish. Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri (No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley) scored ninth at the checkered flag as John Pew and Michael Valiante (No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley) finished in eleventh.
The two-hour Saturday shoot-out in Montreal will see the Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype and GT Classes once again sharing the pavement along the 2.708-mile, 15-turn layout as part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series' annual visit to the facility. The circuit, which played host to Formula One's North American visits for several years, is now used but once a year so will likely change rapidly through the weekend as the rubber hits the pavement.
"The Montreal race is always really enjoyable-the fans are very enthusiastic and it's just a great event to have on the Rolex schedule," said team owner Mike Shank. "Given how we started the race, the Glen was a huge comeback for the whole team and we just want to keep that momentum going this weekend. It could have been a lot worse points-wise, so we will just try to make the most of the chances we have left this season and make a strong push here to close out the year."
The team has a history at the facility that stretches back to the 1990's, when team owner Shank scored a Formula Atlantic C2 victory at the circuit as a driver on his way to winning the Championship. All four Michael Shank Racing drivers have experienced the track from behind the wheel of formula car machinery, with Valiante also having a NASCAR Nationwide race start to his credit on the track (2007).
The race is the second consecutive two hour sprint event on the Rolex calendar, and will put even more pressure on the engineers as it is also the second straight race to not feature a race-day warm-up session, making the seven sessions (including qualifying) on Friday all the more vital to locking in a good race-day set up.
Similar to the Rolex Series outing at Daytona for the one-day Brumos 250 in July, the compressed schedule in Montreal also ups the pressure on the drivers, as any misstep on track will cost precious track time for the team. And the specter of rain will only intensify that prospect, particularly on a track layout that features over a mile distance between pit lane and the Rolex Sports Car Series paddock for crews to cover for any necessary parts or supplies.
While home for Valiante is actually on the other side of the country in Vancouver, the Canadian's performances in Formula Atlantics, NASCAR Nationwide, and Daytona Prototype machinery through the years have generated enthusiastic responses from the locals for their countryman. Valiante scored a podium and fastest lap of the race in Atlantics, and also lead one of his very first NASCAR practice sessions on the track in 2007.
"I love racing in Montreal because even though this event is different from the Formula 1 race, the entire town still gets completely behind the race and it is such a focal point," said Valiante. "For me as a young driver, to be on the podium as part of the Formula 1 weekend was a huge thrill. It is great to go to a market where the fans are really into the event and hopefully I can get back up on that podium again, this time with John!"
Entering the race weekend, Mark Patterson holds third in the Trueman Award standings, just two points adrift of second-place holder Rob Finlay. The two had a coming-together at Watkins Glen and the uncalled-for contact from Finlay derailed Patterson's early race outing on a track where the South African has traditionally been very competitive.
The disappointment was deepened for Patterson as the contact marked the third consecutive Rolex outing where that same black machine make for a bleak outing for the No. 60, which along with the No. 6, has shown remarkable pace but hasn't had the results to show for it following the incidents.
"That was a disappointing way to start out the race and particularly frustrating given how fast the car was," said Patterson of the possible podium performance. "But hopefully we can avoid any of those problems on Saturday afternoon. Michael Shank has always had very quick cars up in Montreal, but this weekend will be quite a challenge for ‘the brains' to come up with a good race day set up, as we'll once again not have the chance to test anything before we start the race. It could also turn into a wet event, which won't make the engineers work any easier!"
John Pew, who won the Star Mazda Master's Championship before moving to the Rolex Sports Car Series, was involved in a frightening accident at Montreal in 2006 as he got caught up in the opening-lap fracas that involved some 18 cars. Ever the competitor, Pew was much less concerned about the outcome (he was airlifted from the track to the hospital…) than he was about what might have been, as he had a very competitive car and was disappointed not to get the chance to race it.
"That was obviously a very scary moment for me and I'm still thankful that basically everyone was ok after that," said Pew. "It's not the kind of thing you want to spend much time dwelling on, but it is a good reminder of how quickly things can happen on a track like Montreal where the walls are close and the vision can be limited. Even though that was not a great experience, I'm very much looking forward to getting back up to Montreal this weekend. It's got so much of everything-the long back stretch and of course the hairpin we've all watched the Formula 1 guys racing through-that it is really a satisfying place to get a good lap in as a driver so I'm really looking forward to getting up there this weekend."
Journalists and new Rolex Sports Car Series fans alike often have a hard time guessing Negri's age and are often surprised to find out that the speedy Brazilian racer has a wife and two children as he could easily pass for someone half his age, and his performance in the race car backs up that impression. This weekend, one of Negri's countryman and former competitors, Rubens Barrichello, impressed as the 37-year old took his tenth Formula 1 race victory.
"I was very happy to see him take that win because of course we've competed in so many different categories that it is great to see him still be so competitive," said Negri. "Of course in Formula 1 so often teams these days just want the youngest driver, but I think he showed that it is important to also have experience and to put that to use so I was very happy for him. I feel fortunate to be racing on a track like Montreal this weekend and I think we've got a very good chance here. We've just had some miserable luck lately, but we've also had some very fast cars so I'm really optimistic about Montreal."