Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian made its Sebring debut last year, scoring a ninth-place, lead-lap finish.
Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian brought a brand-new package to the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona, fielding the No. 60 Tire Kingdom Ligier JS P2/Honda for Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Matt McMurry.
Despite having limited time with the new car, it led all six practice sessions, captured the pole and set the fastest lap of the race before succumbing to issues resulting from an off-track incident.
Now, team owner Mike Shank is eagerly awaiting the next stop on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida on Saturday, March 21. The Columbus, Ohio-based team made its Sebring debut last year, scoring a ninth-place, lead-lap finish.
What are your thoughts on the history of Sebring and its challenges?
“The history of Sebring is very, very cool. There’s nothing I’d like more than to hang the Honda emblem up above the garages and be part of that history. That’s one of the ‘bucket list’ races, winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona and then Sebring. It’s definitely on the list, and we’re working hard to be able to do that. About the track itself, though, the challenges are setting up the car to be fast in Turns 17 and 1, that’s the key to the whole track.
If you can be fast through there, you can kind of muddle your way through the rest of the track. It’s also the trickiest track, because it’s the bumpiest. We’re going to come back there with good information, knowing what we need to do to put together consecutive fast laps.”
What did you learn from last year’s race that will help you this year?
“I’m looking forward to returning to Sebring. Last year was a very tough year for us, bringing the Riley up to the 2014 configuration, with brakes, downforce and power, and on top of that, the integration of the turbo motor with Ford. It was very challenging, and it caught us out a few times. Sebring was one of them.
We were not as competitive as I thought we should be there, and a lot of it had to do with us mostly working on mechanicals and not on the handling side of things, at that phase of our learning all the new stuff last year. It was tough. Going into it this year with the P2 car, we think will be real strong there.
I’m looking forward to hitting it again, knowing what we know now. We know some things about Sebring, and how it wears the car and wears the drivers about, and hopefully we can plan for it a bit better.”
Are you pleased with the progress of the new Ligier/Honda after racing it in the Rolex 24 At Daytona?
“We’re very impressed. Ultimately we had an off into a tire wall that kind of ended our day. But we led all six sessions that weekend, and we even had the fastest lap in the race. That shows there’s a lot of potential. We just have to turn that potential into results. I feel like we’re still scratching the surface with the new car. As we get used to it and get to know it better, we’ll become better. There are some trouble spots. Driver changes are very, very difficult in this car compared to the DP – very challenging – we’ve got to get better at that, and I know we will. It’s just going to take some time. It’s getting to know it like we knew the Riley after 10 years.
You’ve always said that winning the pole for the 2008 Rolex 24 was very good for your business. How was it winning the pole for the 2015 event?
“It was awesome. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t have much time with the car – I got it in early December, in a basket, essentially – and got it together. We were able to test a little at West Palm, did the three day (Roar Before the Rolex 24), and went to the race. Kind of winged it. But with the help all the Onroak Automotive folks, the HPD guys were immediately 110-percent behind us. It showed really good potential. The car is just so good to drive in most scenarios. We took a few educated guesses, and so far, it’s paying off.”
Any reflections from the 2015 Rolex 24?
“The car was really competitive, all the way up until we had our off, around the 11th or 12th hour. We were in the mix, right where we wanted to be, no panicking, really setting ourselves up for the last three hours. What probably doomed us was that the engineer and I started working backwards on the driver lineup for the final hours. We knew we had a car that could contend, so we wanted to maximize our lineup. Not 20 minutes later, we had our problem on the track.”
What are your thoughts looking down the road at the remaining events in the TUDOR Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup?
“We’re going to go as hard as we can the rest of the year. The Patrón Endurance Cup is really not about endurance – it’s about going as fast as you can go on every single lap. We have to be prepared to get this car reliable – not that it isn’t – but I don’t think we’ve seen everything that it will throw at us. We need to keep working on the balance. We think we can make the car better, balance wise, and I think we can do that – and it will come through testing. I think we’ve got good opportunities at different tracks. The DPs are a little bit better at some than others, and we’re a little better at some places. It will be interesting to see how it comes out.”