Racing on a track that has been the scene of some good history for the team, Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajainian overcame contact from another Prototype to score a podium finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda.
Michael Shank Racing drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew combined in the No. 60 Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 for a run to third place in Round 4 of the 2015 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The result marks the team’s best finish of the 2015 season to date since debuting the new Honda Ligier platform in the season-opening round at Daytona.
The team was a competitive force from the outset of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix weekend and paced every practice session ahead of the race.
Pew opened the event from the second row of the grid after delivering his best-ever qualifying performance on Saturday to start the race from fourth. He ran a perfect stint and kept the No. 60 car clean among the tight confines of the 2.238-mile circuit that played host to a combined-class field of over 30 cars. Pew slipped back briefly on the start but made quick work of maneuvering back up to run laps just three tenths off the leader’s pace and remain in the top-five throughout his entire stint.
A yellow flag fell right at the 30-minute mark which allowed the team to make its first pit stop for fuel, tires and a driver change.
Negri strapped back into the No. 60 and the field went back to green with 41 minutes completed. But as he exited Turn 1 on the restart, the No. 31 car hit the No. 60 hard and ran Negri off the race track. The contact bent the steering column and made for a less than ideal handling car through the remainder of the race.
Despite the damage, Negri still managed to run the fastest lap of the race (1:19.303-seconds) and make up time on the leaders. He pushed the No. 60 Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 up to third place, but unfortunately with no more caution periods to be had, the lost track position proved too big of a gap to challenge for the race lead and Michael Shank Racing took third at the checkered flag.
“It’s a fantastic result today,” said John Pew. “I don’t think we quite had the pace that we had in practice and qualifying because the track was a little bit different. And traffic was a real issue – when you got behind a big group you lost quite a bit of time. But Ozz (Negri) did a great job and the Michael Shank Racing guys did a great job. Honda HPD did fantastic work with the engine. I’m very happy with the turnaround after the past couple of races and I think now we’re on an upswing.”
Negri echoed Pew’s comments as he reflected on the race and is looking forward to carrying the positive momentum through the remainder of the season.
“It’s a good result, it was the best we could have done with the circumstances presented,” said Negri. “I got hit on the restart and bent the steering arm so the car was not perfect. At the end of the day it’s a podium and we keep chipping away and one day we’re going to make it happen. The team did a brilliant job this weekend. We led all of the practice sessions and had the fastest race lap. It took a while for me to pass Dane (Cameron) and Joao (Barbosa) – especially Dane – he was pretty aggressive. I knew I had a better car and I just picked my time to pass them. Unfortunately I was further back but it’s a good result. I’m very happy with the progress that we made and extremely proud of John’s (Pew) pace. We’re going to just keep working harder from here on out and make it happen.”
Team Owner Mike Shank was pleased with his team’s effort on Sunday, but couldn’t help but rue what might have been without the contact early on in Negri’s stint.
“It’s a little disappointing because the No. 31 car had us off pretty hard and hurt our front end,” said Shank. “And from then on, the car wasn’t great. Also what happened was we got behind those guys and couldn’t get through them quick enough. So track position with no yellows is what it was. We still had the fastest lap of the race, we just need to get a little luck. John (Pew) had a great first stint – it was exactly what we needed out of him. Ozz (Negri) had the fastest lap so it’s just a matter of having everything come together, but in the end it was a good result today.”
Michael Shank Racing next travels just north of their home base in Ohio to the streets of Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Michigan for Round 5 of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship on May 29-30.