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NEGRI: Daytona Debrief

Ozz Negri files his first Sportscar365 column following Rolex 24…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

What a race, what a weekend.

So much work went into our effort in anticipation of this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona with our new Acura NSX GT3 program, a brand new program to the team and to me as a driver.

Having driven a prototype for so many years, it took a lot of adjustment in driving style to suite the GTD car, most of all, getting used to the ABS brakes.

I’m fortunate to have Jeff Segal as my teammate because it helped a lot. Jeff has tremendous experience with GT cars and his help was fundamental for me getting used to the new GT world.

Jeff and I were joined by Tom Dyer and Ryan Hunter-Reay for the Rolex 24, and the best thing of all is that we all have the same driving style and wanted the same things out of the car.

I am always an optimistic person and I was very confident that we would have a good race.

I talked to Jeff about it and the race turned out to be just like I dreamed and we were fighting for the lead from the drop of the green flag all the way to the checkered flag.

I did a lot of homework as to how I would have to deal with traffic. Coming from the quickest class to the slowest class required a very different approach and that was my main concern – thinking ‘I have to protect my car’.

It was all new on my first stint and all went well as I kept the car close to the front among the top-six of a very strong 27-car GTD class field.

I was learning about the competitors every single lap, figuring out who was quick, who wasn’t quick, who to trust and who not to trust, who was willing to take chances that early, and those you would need to watch out for.

The car had a good balance in the dry, but it showed its legs when the rain started falling. It was mega.

The temperature was pretty low and with the wet track, it made it very sketchy and the name of the game was survival with still over half of the race to go.

With flawless pit stops by the No. 86 crew and great strategy calls by the team, we always had the right Continental Tires on at the right time and that was crucial to keeping it on the black part in some tough conditions.

Our Acura NSX GT3 never missed a beat and by Sunday morning we were leading the race by a good margin.

I just can’t say enough about my co-drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tom Dyer and Jeff Segal. We were all on the same page and that was: ‘let’s take this Acura NSX GT3 to win this race’. What an effort.

In a 24-hour race, we finished on the lead lap, just seconds behind the GTD class leaders. That 5th place felt like a win and we were very happy with the result.

But wait… there’s more! Once we all got back to the MSR transporter, my phone rings and it’s Julie from Sunday Group Management who manages the public relations for Michael Shank Racing.

She said “Put your race suit back on and come to the podium, you won the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup!” and in a flash we were on the Daytona podium celebrating!

There are so many people to thank and you know who you are, from the HPD engineers, everyone at Acura, my entire crew – you were so awesome, my teammates – all of you put on a driving clinic, and my boss Mike Shank for orchestrating such an amazing team.

All that makes me smile even more.

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