After an up-and-down year, Michael Shank Racing finally broke through Sunday at Road America with a season-best second place finish, the team’s first 2014 podium.
Ozz Negri and John Pew drove the No. 60 Riley-Ford to the runner-up result after starting eighth, thanks in major part to a great strategic call from the pit box with just over an hour remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute race.
The No. 60 car, along with the race-winning No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, No. 1 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b and No. 42 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan, all pitted on Lap 38, under the fourth of six full-course cautions.
Team owner Mike Shank said at that point the team was good to go on fuel, and as it turned out, that timing was essential to the result.
“We anticipated everyone pitting there, especially the Chevys,” Shank told Sportscar365. “When they didn’t pit, we had them dead to rights.”
The strategy meant several cars ahead of them on-track – the Nos. 10 and 90 Corvette DPs, the sister No. 01 Riley-Ford from Chip Ganassi Racing, the No. 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b and No. 0 DeltaWing – all still needed a final stop.
That quintet didn’t stop until the fifth full course caution, and with most of the combined field still on the overall lead lap, Shank’s car and the rest of those who pitted on Lap 38 had acquired significant track position gains with GTLM and GTD cars serving as a buffer.
Despite Ryan Dalziel’s attempts in the No. 1 HPD, Negri was able to bring the car home to the finish.
Shank hailed the progress and development made by the Roush Yates Ford EcoBoost engine on fuel mileage since Indianapolis, which allowed the strategy to work.
“We were not coming in for fuel again; we were so focused,” Shank said. “We’d been saving fuel the whole race. We had made a gain, or rather Roush Yates made one again in MPG between Indy and Road America.
“It allowed us to get way more aggressive on our strategy. And that’s what we did.”
While Shank’s team has posted its five best finishes of the season in the last five races (all top-seven finishes in the Prototype class), this was the first time this year Shank’s crew was in winning contention.
It provided a needed morale boost for the squad.
“This run of races – we’ve been racing every other weekend since Watkins – has been brutal to us,” Shank said. “A lot of it has been on us.
“We’re chasing the balance of the car. It’s more edgy than what we’ve been used to. But Ganassi has been having the issue with the package, too.
“We’re both finding how to deal with the new package, and we’re getting better from a balance perspective.”
Further development gains to the car, besides the fuel mileage improvements, should serve the team well for the final two races of the season in Austin and Petit Le Mans.
“I think we’ll do better the more we go,” Shank said. “Overall we’re not as good as the Chevys. It’s deceiving because our top-end is pretty good.
“We’re getting beat on low-end power and downforce, we believe. But we have to keep working on it, and we will.”