Following a radical off-season switch of machinery followed up by a promising showing at the Roar, Michael Shank heads into this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona feeling bullish of his team’s chances of a return to victory lane.
The longtime DP squad, which made the radical switch to a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2, came within two-tenths of the overall quickest time at the pre-season TUDOR United SportsCar Championship test, and was more than 1 second quicker than the P2 competition.
For Shank, whose Rolex 24 win in 2012 still ranks as the team’s crowning achievement, his confidence level is at an all-time high in the P2 entry that arguably has the best chance of victory this weekend.
“The pace is very strong,” Shank told Sportscar365. “We showed everything we had and it’s good.
“The car has so many systems, that will be what we need to look after. It’s not the motor, it’s the things that hang around the motor, and the suspension, to get it to last 24 hours.
“I give that as our highest challenge. Our second challenge will be keeping guys from scrapping with other guys on track.”
While boasting a formable lineup of Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and 17-year-old Matt McMurry, the Ohio-based team is still coming to grips with its new machine, after running DP machinery since 2004, including the last seven with Ford power.
“It’s a totally different feel,” Shank said of the transition to Honda power. “The Roush-Yates guys were like family to me so it’s going to take some time to learn a new group. They have a different system; it’s good. It’s just different.
“But they’ve been very supportive. Honda, even though they have their [HPD ARX-04b] car that they’re really focused on, I still feel like they know we’re here and they want us to do well.
“And I’m the only [full season] HPD runner. It’s one of the reasons I did the deal… I kind of like that, compared to where we were last year.”
Shank said he’s also been impressed with the Onroak Automotive-built prototype, which makes its Daytona debut seven months after nearly pulling off a class win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
While the French prototype hasn’t necessarily been bullet-proof, it has regularly been the pace-setter in LMP2 competition worldwide since its mid-season debut,
It’s also a significant departure from Shank’s previous DP machinery which his team and drivers had become accustomed to over the last decade-plus.
“I can tell you it’s easy to drive compared to the DP and the guys appreciate that I think,” Shank said. “You’ve still gotta drive it.
“When you’re getting the last couple [of tenths] out of it, you still have to push for it. But it’s a much more, knock wood, forgiving car. It’s just more fun to drive.”
With support from Onroak this weekend, in the form of engineer Matthieu Leroy, who took OAK Racing to victory in the TUDOR Championship last year, Shank feels he has all of the right pieces in place.
However, he’s even more excited for what the remainder of the season could bring, particularly once the team gets additional testing under their belts and head to circuits that are better suited for P2 machinery.
“It’s a lot of work, especially early on,” Shank said. “We’re going to get to go test at Sebring for two days in February. By that time, we’ll be able to get caught up more and more.
“No matter what we take out of this place, we’ll continue to get better and better. It’s just the way my team works. We don’t ramp up real quick, it seems, we just ease into it. But it’s worked for us.”