What a difference a year makes for Michael Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri (Columbus, OH) 11 January 06-- Besides skill, bravery, determination, and speed, the most important thing for any race car driver can be opportunity, and for Michael...
What a difference a year makes for Michael Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri
(Columbus, OH) 11 January 06-- Besides skill, bravery, determination, and speed, the most important thing for any race car driver can be opportunity, and for Michael Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri, it looked as though his opportunity had passed last year at this time, as he hunted the paddock during the Daytona Open test in search of a ride in the Rolex Sports Car Series.
Despite driving a to a break-out 2004 season with rookie co-driver Burt Frisselle that scored Negri honors as RaceSite.com's "Rising Star," the quick and affable Brazilian struggled to find a ride for 2005.
"It was so frustrating for me, I can't even explain it," said Negri. "I'd had a great season driving with Burt Frisselle for Mike (Shank), and we'd been on the podium a couple of times, but I just couldn't find a seat for the season or even for the 24. I really thought I'd shown that I deserve to be in the series, so it was disappointing to be watching instead of racing. I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career, so I knew that the sport sometimes doesn't work out the way you think it should, but it was still tough to take."
It wasn't for a lack of trying though, as he tested with a variety of teams in cars that he'd never driven before, and was immediately on the pace each time, but still the ride never materialized.
"Some of the guys were really great, like Wayne (Taylor) letting me run in his car just to show what I could do. Everyone was saying 'I can't believe you don't have a ride,' which I agreed with!" smiled Negri.
Discouraged but unbowed, Negri returned to his normal job, coaching drivers in a variety of series, from Formula BMW USA to the Star Mazda series, and it was this work that helped lead him back to the Rolex Series paddock with Mike Shank.
"It was almost funny-I was working with a Mazda team and came to meet Mark (Patterson) in March, and he asked me, 'Would you mind doing a couple of Rolex races with me?' 'No, of course I wouldn't mind!' I told him, and I knew exactly what team we should work with," said Negri.
Patterson, who already had two Rolex 24 At Daytona starts to his credit in addition to having raced in Formula BMW, Ferrari Challenge, Star Mazda and Skip Barber competition, had enjoyed working with Oz as his coach, and felt like the Brazilian father of two would be an ideal teammate as well.
"I had raced in the 24, and was enjoying running in the Mazda series, but I really wanted to have a go at running Rolex full-time, and when I met Oz, it seemed like a perfect fit because I don't know that there is anyone more obsessed with winning than that guy," said Patterson. "I couldn't believe that no one had snapped him up for a drive, but that worked out well for me and now those guys are sorry they hadn't taken him!""
Negri and Patterson made their debut at Laguna Seca, as Shank assembled the extra staffing and to support a second entry, with Dave Kanning leading the engineering side of the program. Entering a rented a Lexus-Riley combination, Negri firmly reminded the Rolex paddock of his prodigious talent and commitment by taking the one-off entry to a record-setting pole position in the Rolex Series' debut race at the famed Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.
"That was certainly a highlight of my career," smiled Negri. "I want to win so badly, and to be able to put that car on the pole my first time back in the series after not having been in a car for six months, that was just awesome."
Negri, who cut his teeth against drivers with names like Coulthard, Barrichello, and De Ferran now has a two-year program set up with Patterson and Mike Shank, and is looking forward to a successful partnership.
"This was the best winter I have ever had," said Negri. "Having everything in place for the year and knowing I was working with the best makes me so relaxed that I can totally concentrate on doing the best job possible in the car."
Oz now has the next challenge ahead of him now that he has scored the opportunity he has been chasing all his life-to make the most of it.
"For sure there is pressure, but most of it is coming from inside me," said Negri. "I am so thankful for Mark's commitment to this program, and he and Mike aren't in this just to make up the numbers, we are all here to go for a win."
Negri will get that chance next in the 44th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 28-9, co-driving with Patterson as well as Champ Car stand-outs A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson.