This weekend’s Continental Tire Grand Prix of Monterey marks a return to a track that has some key memories for Ozz Negri as he pushes to discover what the future holds.
After helping to launch a second full-time Prototype entry for Michael Shank Racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca over a decade ago, Negri scored a long-relished victory at the track last year.
In 2005, MSR was starting just its second season of sports car competition, but already had ambitions for a bigger program.
With a one car program—a Pontiac-powered Riley—solidly in place, the team took on a second entry for the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca weekend as Negri teamed with his coaching pupil Mark Patterson to share a Lexus-powered Riley.
Designed as a toe in the water exercise for Negri and Patterson, the weekend turned into a head-first jump into the water for everyone involved.
After having raced a Doran chassis through 2004, Negri’s first time behind the wheel of the Riley saw him qualify the car on pole.
The duo came home with a top-10 finish, and scored a podium at Watkins Glen just two races later, setting the hook for Patterson as he committed to being an integral part of the Michael Shank Racing program for years to come.
“We just wanted to see how Mark (Patterson) would adapt to the Prototype after racing the Pro Mazda cars, so to get the pole in our first try and have a great weekend at Laguna, that really got things going,” said Negri.
“We did more races and then put everything together to do a full season together in 2006.”
In 2006 Negri started the Mazda Raceway event from the front row and scored a podium at the track with Patterson in 2007.
The Negri and Patterson collaboration went on to earn race victories and podiums in key events like the Rolex 24 At Daytona for Michael Shank Racing.
“Ozz had been working with Mark (Patterson) and they wanted to see what they could do racing together in a Daytona Prototype,” recalls team owner Mike Shank.
“Ozz went and stuck the thing on the pole and Mark did a very good job in a car that had three times the power of anything he had raced before! So that weekend at Laguna really kicked a lot of things into motion for us as a team.”
Fast forward to 2015, and Negri was once again on the podium in Monterey, this time with co-driver John Pew in their Honda-powered Ligier JS P2.
“I really like the track—it is not the easiest place to pass, but there are some really awesome sections that I love driving,” said Negri. “And it has been such an important place for my career through the years, so racing there is something that I always appreciate.”
Pew, who had made his debut with Micheal Shank Racing at Laguna Seca, added to his list of IMSA victories as he and Negri scored a triumphant victory at the track, one of two overall wins in 2016 for the duo as Michael Shank Racing hit its stride with the Honda/Ligier combination.
“It was incredible-we knew we had the car to win that weekend and everyone on the team did exactly what they needed to do for us to turn it into a victory,” said Negri.
“So to win at the track that kind of started so much for me and Mike Shank, it was really a huge highlight and something to cherish for a long time.”
Now as the team prepares to race the final two events of the season as a factory Acura squad, there are a lot of questions about what the 2018 IMSA season will hold as Negri returns to the track that has been so key to him through his career.
The team has taken the brand-new Acura NSX GT3 from unproven runner to race winner in just the span of a few months, with Negri’s patented development driver background helping to push the effort forward.
While Negri and co-driver Jeff Segal have not yet been able to reap the benefits of that progress with race victories for the No. 86 entry, the year has been one that has seen Negri continue to develop as a driver as he has adapted to the GT class machinery.
“After all the years racing Prototypes, it was really a big reset for me to have so little downforce, to be working with ABS and all the tools that the GT3 cars have, and to at the same time be working as a team effort to keep pushing to make the car better every weekend,” said Negri.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year and Jeff (Segal) and I are still chasing a podium but this has been such a team effort. I am so proud of this team and always impressed by Mike Shank and what this group does.
“It is awesome to be coming back to Laguna as the race winner here and hopefully we can be strong this weekend. I am not yet sure what we will be doing next year, but I am just focused on getting everything we can out of these last two races and the rest will take care of itself.”