April 24, 2009

Michael Shank Racing takes 2nd at VIR
Puncture spoils Negri’s podium aspirations, but 60 still recovers to take 6th

(Alton, VA) April 24 2009—Despite the Bosch Engineering 250 getting off to an inauspicious start, Michael Shank Racing staged a strong recovery on Saturday with both team entries and returned to the Rolex Sports Car Series podium as John Pew and Michael Valiante finished second in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley after making a tremendous comeback at Virginia International Raceway.

The sister No. 60 of Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri finished 6th despite having to make an extra pit stop following a cut tire midway through the race.

“I’m really proud of the performance we had this weekend,” said team owner Mike Shank. “Our guys drove strong races, the engineers made some great calls with pit strategy, and our guys were great in the pits once again. We were hoping to get back to the top of the podium, but this was still a strong weekend for us and now we’ll look for more at New Jersey.”

The two hour and forty-five minute event got off to an undesired start after Pew’s strong qualifying performance, which netted him 7th on the grid, was thrown out the window when another car sent him off-course on just the third lap of the race. Fortunately the damage wasn’t so severe that he was forced to retire, and he was able to return to the track to begin work on recovering positions from deep in the field. A full course caution was a welcome development, as the field was repacked for a restart. But for the second time, Pew was again crashed off-course shortly after the restart, this time by a different car.

Once again, he was able to get back on track and into the thick of battle before turning the car over to Valiante.

Meanwhile, Patterson was able to make the most of a car that had him smiling inside his helmet as he was up to 8th by lap 7, and then following the caution, took the restart from third in the order. That well-handling car was put to full pelt as the defending Rolex Champion Ganassi machine harried the South African for third, but after getting off to a clean restart, Patterson established and kept a gap before turning the machine over to Negri.

Midway through the race, Michael Shank Racing ran 5th and 6th with Negri and Valiante looking to keep the team’s strong form in the results continuing. But soon thereafter, the two cars’ fortunes took separate turns, as Negri was able to keep control of the car despite a high-speed tire problem, which forced him to take to the pits with only three patches of rubber before he took on fresh tires and rejoined deep in the pack.

Valiante, though, kept making ground, and moved up to take second on credit from his pace, some great pit calls and pit work, and was soon enough fighting at the front, taking the lead and holding station out front for 15 laps.

What looked to be a possible return to victory lane for the No. 6, which won the season-ending event at Miller Motorsports Park, was stymied just minutes from the checkered flag as lapped traffic kept Valiante from taking his second Rolex win after getting bottled in traffic and losing the lead.

But he shadowed the leader through the last moments of the race, finishing less than once second behind to take second.

“I had a good in-lap and then the crew did a phenomenal job to get me out so quickly, and then I was able to keep the 99 car behind me on my out lap,” said Valiante, whose fitness regimen meant that he barely needed water after getting out of the car following his big battle in the high heat. “But we had contact with a lapped car and that damaged the front of our car a little bit so when we caught that traffic, there was nothing I could do to keep Alex from getting the lead. We had a lot of ground to make up after John got knocked off track. We were fast enough to run up front, but just didn’t have the speed to get back in front of him. It’s tough to be that close and not get the win, but it’s still great to get up here on the podium with John, and we’ll look to do it again next weekend in New Jersey.”

“What a great comeback!” said Pew. “We had an awful start, getting knocked off track twice in just a few laps. That wasn’t any fun at all, but the team called a great strategy, we got a little luck with that yellow, and then Michael just drove an incredible race today. Finishing the season with a win last year at Miller was fantastic, but Daytona was a huge disappointment to start this season, so this is much more like it to get back up on the podium today. Thanks to the Mike Shank guys, they never gave up.”

Negri had shown his own determination and pace, recovering from 21t to race his way to take 6th at the finish.

“The car was absolutely a podium car today, and I just had to drive my heart out to get back up to sixth after we lost the tire and had to make the extra pit stop,” said Negri, who also suffered a similar fate in the 2008 race as a deflating tire forced an extra pit stop. “We had the speed today, this was a really great car. But to come back from where we did to finish 6th, we’ll take it. And now we’re headed back to New Jersey where we won last year, so hopefully we can just avoid any bad luck next weekend and get back up on the podium.”

“Two fantastic comebacks for the team today to come out of the day with 2nd and 6th,” said Patterson, who held off reigning Daytona Prototype champion Memo Rojas for third place before turning the car over to Negri. “The car was fantastic at the start—it felt as though it was at half tanks with warm tires, even though we had full tanks and cold tires at the start. I had a great time running in third and keeping the distance over Memo, and Ozz did a fantastic job to come all the way back to finish sixth, so a really strong day for the whole team.”

The Rolex Sports Car Series returns next Sunday, May 3 at the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey, with coverage live on SPEED beginning at 1 p.m. EDT.

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