The four drivers who gave Michael Shank Racing its first Rolex 24 at Daytona win last season will be re-united for the 2013 edition (January 26-27) to try and repeat the feat at Daytona International Speedway.
Announced at the speedway during the Rolex Series’ ‘Roar Before the 24’ test the team confirmed the A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson will join the team’s regular driver pairing of Ozz Negri and John Pew in the #60 Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype.
“It’s fun to come back to the race as defending champions,” said Allmendinger. “For all of us, we’ve been so close to a great finish so many years and when you walk into the garage and you remember the previous year looking at the team that had won the race and now we’re that team. So everybody is going to be gunning for us – we know that – but overall from the sounds of it, John and Ozz and everybody has made the car even better and we should have another good shot at it.”
Negri is not testing during the three day ‘Roar’ due to a leg injuring he picked up while training, NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner (and a former teammate of Allemendinger) Marcos Ambrose filling in for the team.
The Tasmanian will be retained to support the team as Negri’s return to full fitness is monitored in the immediate build-up to the race.
“It’s my first time back in a Daytona Prototype car and first time here at Daytona since 2005 so it’s a lot of fun,” said Ambrose. “The team is just a great team and we have a great atmosphere. The car is really good. We’re all very similar in our styles and speed. It’s just going to be a whole lot of fun. If you’re going to come and try to do this race, if you can run with the team that won last year’s race then you’ve done pretty well so I’m excited about that. Ozz has been great. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap when I got here and he’s been really open and helpful. This team means a lot to him whether he’s behind the wheel or he’s watching from the sidelines.”
As last year MSR will field two cars in the Rolex 24, the second Ford-Riley entrusted to the quartet of Jorge Goncalves, Gustavo Yacaman, Chris Cumming and Michael Valiante.
South Americans Goncalves and Yacaman finished third for Mike Shank in last year’s Rolex 24. Valiante, meanwhile, took a single overall win in 2012, driving for Spirit of Daytona Racing with Richard Westbrook at Mid-Ohio as part of season in which he drove four races for the Corvette DP team after racing for Starworks Motorsport in the Rolex 24, that event breakin a streak of three years when the Canadian was part of the Michael Shank Racing line-up at Daytona.
“Coming back is very good,” said Yacaman. “I know all of the team guys already and it’s not like a new experience all over again. I think there is a good vibe among everybody on the team. The 60 car won last year and we finished third so I think we can repeat that this year and hopefully flip it around – and we get the win this year!”
“I’m very proud of this driver line-up and I think we have another good opportunity to do well – with both of these cars,” said team owner Mike Shank. “I’m thrilled to welcome back Michael to the team as well as Chris Cumming. They both tested with us in December and they did a great job. We’ll just focus on the same things that were successful for us last year. I want to win every year. To repeat would be an oddity because I think it would be very difficult to do but we have very strong cars. Our drivers know us really well. Almost all of my drivers have been with me for a long time now. We have what we think is the right combination to win the race, we just need to stay out of trouble. We have as good of a shot -or better- than a lot of people.”
The defending champions began the test on promising form, Allmendinger setting the fastest time overall on the opening day of running.