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NEGRI: Sebring Debrief

Ozz Negri files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

After our great debut race at the Rolex 24, there were high expectations for us at Sebring. But, Sebring is Sebring – a unique track which is one of the toughest ones on both the equipment and the drivers.

We participated in the official IMSA test at Sebring in February and realized that we needed a lot more speed to be competitive.

With lots of work done, our engineers and crew worked non-stop to improve the handling of our car. But again, at a track like Sebring, one day your car can be hooked up, and the next day with different weather and track conditions, you can be out to lunch.

Our race weekend started with a few bumps in the road, did I mention that Sebring is very bumpy? We missed the first practice on Thursday because we had a clutch problem so that immediately put us behind.

The great thing is that we have the best in the business working on the Michael Shank Racing cars and we were ready to go for Practice 2.

My co-drivers Jeff Segal and Tom Dyer ran that second session and I was scheduled to drive during the night practice.

The car was working fine but we knew that race day conditions were going to be different, so in reality, Practice 4 on Friday morning would be more representative of what we would encounter on race day.

I was going to qualify the No. 86 Acura on Friday so the team put me in the car with a plan for me to run most of Practice 4. We had a good plan on what to try and I was really looking forward to that.

Unfortunately I got hit from behind by a PC car on my first lap out during Practice 4 and that ended our only remaining session prior to qualifying.

This was the first time for me to qualify a GT car. P14 was not what I wanted nor what the team wanted but I can honestly say that my teammate Mark Wilkins (who qualified the No. 93 car) and I gave it our all and didn’t leave anything on the table. We need to find more speed in the car.

I knew that it was going to be an extremely tough race. I had to re-learn how to deal with traffic.

At Daytona, traffic wasn’t so bad because with the banking and long straights it wasn’t too difficult for the faster classes to pass by us.

But at Sebring you are so busy all the time fighting with the bumps (and the bumps usually win!) and with no long straights, it made it very tricky dealing with traffic.

The DPis are a lot quicker in different parts of the track. For example, their rate of approach was much quicker than at Daytona. The GTLMs carry the same speed on the straights but carry more cornering speed, more braking power and a lot less patience when they get to us.

I was happy with my pace and really just tried not to piss anybody off hoping that the faster cars would treat me well and they did.

We kept our nose clean and with a super, super effort by my co-drivers and I, and the awesome strategy calls by the Michael Shank Racing team, we were there fighting again at the end of the race.

We finished eighth which is not exactly what we wanted or what we deserved but I’ll take those points.

Our Acura NSX GT3 passed a really tough test called the Sebring 12 Hour and it ran solidly for the entire race with no problems at all.

We will keep working on finding more speed, our engineers at Michael Shank Racing are flat out at it as always.

We learned a lot about the car as you always do at Sebring and we’re looking forward to racing at Long Beach in a few weeks.

Ozz Negri (@OzzNegri) is the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona race winner, driving for Michael Shank Racing and Acura in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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