Michael Shank Racing has attracted another strong driver line-up for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, revealing a highly-competitive driving roster for its two-car Daytona Prototype effort.
MSR enters the new season with the momentum afforded by two victories late in 2008 and the knowledge that it started last year's Rolex 24 with both of its cars on the front row at Daytona.
“It was definitely big to win the pole last year and we worked very hard to do that," MSR regular Oswaldo Negri commented, "We will be working hard to do it again, but the main focus is definitely to win the race. The guys have worked really really hard and we're very focused. This is such a tough race, but we feel like we have all the pieces in place to be there at the end once again.”
For the 47th running of the 24-hour classic, the #6 Ford-Riley will see full-season drivers John Pew and Michael Valiante joined by experienced MSR pilot Ian James and NASCAR racer AJ Allmendinger, while the #60 entry has regulars Mark Patterson and Negri sharing with reigning Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Ryan Hunter-Reay and NASCAR Truck Series rookie of the year Colin Braun.
“I'm really excited about this line-up with the guys we have in both cars,” team owner Mike Shank admitted, “We've always been fortunate to have a lot of interest from top drivers and this year was no different. Everyone involved with this effort has a great team attitude and knows what it's going to take to win this race. We know how to finish this race and how to get on the podium here, but we're 100 per cent focused on getting to that top step.
“They are in my opinion the best Daytona Prototype drivers I can put in the car. Every single person has experience in these cars, and can wheel them hard, but smartly, and get this race won somehow. Our pre-race preparation has to be spot on and that's a big focus for us. We're obviously working on the cars, but we're also working behind the scenes to be as ready as possible if something happens. It's important to be able to get the car back out within a yellow flag period. That can be key in this race.”
Despite having scored rookie accolades last season, both Hunter-Reay and Braun can boast extensive experience in Daytona Prototypes, as Hunter-Reay drove to a convincing victory at Miller Motorsports Park in 2007, and Braun set a record as the category's youngest winner with his victory in the Brumos 250 at Daytona aged just 17.
“I'm excited to be here with Michael Shank Racing," Braun admitted, "I raced against them a bunch when I was driving for Krohn Racing and AIM last year and I've seen how strong their preparation is and how quick their cars can be. They've also had really good driver line-ups, so I'm really excited to be a part of this team for the 24.
"I feel like we have a great shot at winning the race because this is a group of smart drivers and fast drivers. Mike Shank has put a great programme together with these Ford motors and, with the experience and speed that this line up has, hopefully we can make the most of this opportunity and looking forward to getting 2009 started off on the right foot here at the 24.”
Allmendinger and James are also familiar faces around the Shank pits, with the 2009 Rolex event marking Allmendinger's fourth consecutive start with the team and aiming to go one better over his 2006 Rolex 24 debut, which saw him score second overall with co-drivers Patterson, Negri, and Justin Wilson. James, who has won in every current category of Rolex Sports Car and KONI Sports Car Challenge competitions, made his first DP start with MSR in 2007 and was part of the #6 car's breakthrough victory in the final race of the 2008 season.
“I think Michael Shank is one of the most fun team owners to drive for and that's part of why every year when he asks, I come back," Allmendinger revealed, "It's a lot of fun and he puts together a great team. All the guys that work for the team are pretty much the same guys every year so it's a good group to be a part of. We've been close so many times that we just want to go out and get the job done. He's put together a great group of drivers for both cars, so I'm just looking forward to it.”