A new force in American racing

by Gordon Kirby on 30th January 2012

What a pleasure it was to watch Mike Shank’s team run a faultless race to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

It was the first major win for Shank’s burgeoning team and the first Daytona 24 Hour win in 13 years for Ford. It was also a great win for drivers Justin Wilson, AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew, all of whom shared the delight of scoring the biggest victories of their careers.

Shank is a former driver who won the Formula Atlantic C2 Championship in 1996 before starting his team, first in Atlantic, then moving into the Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototype category in 2004. Shank’s cars have always been powered by Ford engines and they’ve been able to win three Grand-Am races over the last eight years and have challenged unsuccessfully to win at Daytona.

But this year Shank was ready with two of the new generation of Riley Mk XXVI-Fords. Both of his cars were in the hunt all the way and as the long night wore on Shank’s lead car, driven by Wilson/Allmendinger/Negri/Pew, established itself in front and over the race’s last half they were the men to beat. The strongest challenge came from Chip Ganassi’s lead Riley-BMW driven by last year’s winners Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas/Graham Rahal/Joey Hand, but Shank’s Ford-powered car was quicker on the banking and Pruett and his team-mates admitted it was going to be tough to beat Shank.

In the middle of the night Ganassi’s second car driven by Juan-Pablo Montoya/Dario Franchitti/Scott Dixon/Jamie McMurray fell out of contention because of a broken gear lever. Other leading lights to hit trouble included all four of the new Corvette Daytona Prototypes. Most notable of the Corvettes was Wayne Taylor’s car driven by Max Angelelli/Ryan Briscoe/Ricky Taylor and Bob Stalling’s Gainsco car driven by Alex Gurney/Jon Fogarty/Memo Gidley. Taylor’s car suffered a valve train failure after only a few hours while the Gainsco Corvette ran into trouble with a failed water pump and then a crash, which required a change of nose.

By the time the sun came up on Sunday morning only three cars remained on the lead lap – Shank’s and Ganassi’s number one cars and Starworks Motorsports’ lead Riley-Ford driven by Ryan Dalziel/Alan McNish/Lucas Luhr/Enzo Potolicchio/Alex Popow. The Starworks car started from pole and stayed on the lead lap all the way, eventually claiming second place when Pruett/Rojas/Rahal/Hand hit gearbox trouble. A long stop was required to change the Ganassi car’s gear stack, which lost four laps and dropped Pruett and his team-mates to sixth at the finish.

Meanwhile Allmendinger/Wilson/Negri/Pew ran the distance without any trouble or mistakes to score the biggest win of all their careers. Allmendinger brought the winning car home, driving the last three hours without relief and scoring his first win in five years, since departing Champ Car for NASCAR at the end of 2007. “It’s such a prestigious race,” Allmendinger said. “It’s one of those races you want on your résumé. It’s just amazing. I’m going to cherish it. This is the biggest win I’ve ever been a part of and those last three hours were some of most fun I’ve ever had in a race car.”

It was also a great accomplishment for Wilson who was driving his first race since breaking his back in an IndyCar accident at Mid-Ohio last August. “This is a tough race,” Justin said. “It was flat-out all the way. We gave it everything, every lap. That’s the way it has to be in order to be competitive and win this race. I’m really pleased for Mike and Ford, and the whole team.”

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