While DP cars have won the opening two rounds of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, it hasn’t necessarily been clear-sailing for all of the former GRAND-AM teams as they come to grips with updated cars and racing in new environments.
Michael Shank Racing is one of those teams looking for a rebound in this weekend’s trip to the streets of Long Beach, as the 2012 Rolex 24-winning squad has yet to hit its stride in the new-look Prototype category.
“Neither Daytona nor Sebring represented what we were capable of,” Ozz Negri told Sportscar365. “I don’t think we were a top-three car but we were not a 12th place or 9th place car for sure. There’s a little bit of a hole in the air that we’re trying to fill.”
Gearbox issues delayed the No. 60 Riley-Ford of Negri, John Pew, Justin Wilson and A.J. Allemdinger by more than 50 laps at Daytona, while the the Ohio-based squad fought their way back onto the lead lap for a 9th place finish at Sebring after an ECU change mid-race.
But for Negri, mastering the new 2014 package, featuring a new six-speed gearbox, carbon brakes, traction control, a dual element rear wing and diffuser plus an increase in horsepower, has been one of the biggest challenges, as it’s required a completely different approach.
“At Daytona, all we were trying to do was to work on the reliability, which the Ford guys did a fantastic job,” he said.
“When we arrived at Sebring for the first test day, we were so far off. There was so much work to be done but we closed the gap for the race.
“The way I’m approaching Long Beach is that I’m not worried about the speed of the P2 cars or any other car. I’m focused on doing the best we can with what we have. If it’s good enough, then we’ll be competitive.”
While the new Ford EcoBoost powerplant has shown early promise, with Chip Ganassi Racing winning last time out at Sebring, Negri feels the biggest struggles so far has been getting enough mechanical grip out of the entire package.
“Every time we go to the track, there’s a big jump in development and progress,” Negri said. The team has worked really hard getting weight out of the car.
“We’ve been working on the brakes; carbon brakes are new for us. Daytona was one thing but Sebring was something different and we had to change master cylinders and make it right.
“With the amount of downforce we have now, we can mask quite a lot of the deficiencies we have mechanically. We’re really focusing on that.”
This weekend’s Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase presents some unknowns for DP teams, many of which had never never been to the 1.9-mile, 11-turn street circuit before.
While Negri and Shank were part of the 2006 Rolex Series event, having recorded a fifth place finish in the team’s Lexus-powered Riley, the Brazilian driver doesn’t feel much can be carried over from GRAND-AM’s one-and-only trip to So Cal.
“The cars are so much different in every single aspect,” he said. “We were using Goodyear tires at the time… and the Continental tires are a whole lot better now.
“The level of downforce, those were the [first generation] cars. We didn’t have nowhere the amount of downforce we have now.
“Obviously what I can take is the driving and what I remembered doing to get around the track. But it was exactly the same kind of approach as when I was there in Indy Lights.
“The car there has to be fast in the straight and stop very well. That’s where I think the lap times will come from, being able to put power down out of the hairpin.”