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SHANK: Journey to Le Mans, Pt. 3

Michael Shank’s latest column in the buildup to 24H Le Mans…


So a lot has happened since I last wrote about our Le Mans adventures. That is how racing has worked for me for over 23 years… One minute all is calm and in one call everything changes.

We knew going into April that we had two West Coast races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans right after. What we didn’t know is that in between we would be pushed to do the Indy 500, run Detroit and also win at Laguna. But let me start with Long Beach.

Traditionally with the P2 car we knew that Long Beach would be a challenge. The first thing IMSA did after Sebring was greatly reduce our boost level. We knew it was going to happen but that really knocked us back.

In any case we were much happier with our car’s balance compared to last year at Long Beach and it was a very uneventful P7 finish for us.

We simply do not have the boost to get us off the corners at the Long Beach circuit but I was very happy with the team’s performance at Long Beach. The pit stop was very good and John and Ozz drove well.

Moving onto Laguna, we knew that this would be a very good track for our car. We podiumed there last year and we knew we would be strong.

The dynamic when we race with GTLM really does change the strategy and we thought we knew the odds of the race going one way but we couldn’t have been more wrong.

As part of the HPD getting knocked back in boost, the Mazdas got more boost for the West Coast races and as it turned out the Mazdas were untouchable in all of the on-track sessions except for the warmup when we were P1 and both Ozz and John liked the balance of our car.

We had a very solid strategy for this race and were very confident that we could at least have a shot at the podium.

John had a very good first stint handing the car over to Ozz in P6 when the first full course caution came. What happened from here on out won us the race.

We came into the pits P6 and came out P3, the result of an excellent pit stop by the guys. On the restart, Ozz pushed past the No. 31 car and then the DeltaWing to get us up to P1 on the first green lap.

We worked very hard on this with Ozz on cold tires during practice, meaning we practiced cold tire out laps very hard and Ozz learned where he could push with cold tires. This paid off big time.

With the Mazdas buried back in the field a bit, Ozz could push hard and build a gap and he did. One more caution came out and the restart was good for us and Ozz built his gap out to 30 seconds which we maintained until the checkered flag.

We needed this win very badly and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys in their execution of the race. Our pit stops were top of the grid and allowed Ozz to manage the race until the end.

The big news I read after the race win was that we had not won since the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2012. I hadn’t thought about it but that was correct.

That’s tough to hear but we had plenty of podiums, just not the wins. It felt good to get that monkey off our backs.

While we were out in Laguna you may have read online that we were trying to run the Indy 500. The truth is that we were very close to doing that and we had a lot of support to try and make this happen.

It’s a lifelong dream of mine and many of the guys on my team to run the Indy 500 and the chance to do it in the same year as running the 24 Hours of Le Mans seemed almost too good to be true.

But the reality was that money was actually not the problem, it was the equipment. Although Sam Schmidt and I tried to make it happen there was no way we could prepare the equipment in a competitive way and not hurt the 24 Hours of Le Mans project, which is Michael Shank Racing’s #1 priority.

So we backed down from the Indy 500. I have to thank Honda, IndyCar and Sam Schmidt for trying. Maybe someday!

So we focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans after Laguna. Everything was very well organized and our partnership with Onroak Automotive has made this process much easier.

One thing we realized shortly after Laguna was that Honda was now leading the Manufacturers standings and we were only 13 points out of the lead of the championship… So what do we do?

And so we figured out a way to run Detroit. John Pew and I never planned on going to Detroit from the beginning; the idea was that he solely concentrates on Le Mans and we did not want to have to parachute into Le Mans for the test day – having the test day immediately following the Detroit race on Sunday was the biggest issue in running the Detroit event.

In an effort to keep both Honda and our team in the championship, we developed a plan that keeps 1/2 the team in France and 1/2 in Detroit.

John and Laurens Vanthoor will run the first LM session on Sunday, June 5th and get John’s 10 mandatory laps in right away. Ozz and the other 1/2 of the team will be in Le Mans following the Detroit event hopefully by 11:30 a.m. Sunday. We then can get Ozz his 10 mandatory laps.

The only way we can make all this happen is by utilizing some of our MSR personnel from 2013 and also call on Kevin Doran and Noah Bailey to complete the team.

Detroit is impossible without these guys and we thank them for the willingness to help us when things are tight for us.

It was also announced that Katherine Legge would drive with Ozz at Detroit. We have to thank Dr. Panoz, Katherine and the entire DeltaWing team led by Tim Keene for allowing this to happen.

Ever since the huge effort that the DeltaWing team put in to help us at Petit Le Mans last year, they continue to impress me with their willingness to help. Thank you and we look forward to seeing Katherine drive our car.

So as I sit and write this blog in a hotel in Le Mans we are exactly one week into our 31 day trip.

We tested our Le Mans car at Monza last week. It went very well for us and it allowed our drivers and team to start to understand all of the things it takes to run in the WEC and especially in the LM24.

Our car was very quick and all the drivers settled in nicely. The single biggest difference is going to the Dunlop tires. These tires take a much different style than the Continentals. By the end of the test all three drivers were working it out.

Monza was also the first time we got to work with Laurens Vanthoor. This guy is awesome and I feel lucky we got him for this race. Fans in the U.S. will hear a lot more about him in the coming years!!

So we have a lot going on and I want to take a minute to thank all of our wives, girlfriends, families and friends that are helping in any way to make sure our lives stay in motion while we are gone.

This effort I take very seriously and I thank all of you.

More updates to come before the 24 Hours of Le Mans… Stay tuned!

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