Michael Shank Racing claimed its maiden victory in the Daytona Prototype class in the 50th anniversary running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with IZOD IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson among the winning driver lineup in his first return to race action in six months.
Wilson had missed the latter races of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season after fracturing vertebrae in a practice accident at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, and the Daytona 24h marked his first race since he was declared fit to get back to action - and he showed no signs of any cobwebs whatsoever.
An extended night-time stint from Wilson helped put the #60 car out in front, and additional spells behind the wheel for co-drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew set up NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger to bring the car home to the chequered flag after 761 laps (2709.16 miles), holding off a late resurgence from the #8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley driven by Ryan Daziel in second place that closed to within just 5s of the lead.
"I feel like we deserved it to be honest," said Michael Shank. "I think we've worked hard. I don't make any excuses for that. We paid our dues for sure and I hope it can take us to new cool places in the coming years."
"I feel very fortunate," contributed Allmendinger. "It's such a prestigious race. It's one of those races you want on your resume and you want to say that you were part of a victory. It's amazing. I'm going to cherish this."
"Watching and waiting at the end were the hardest two and a half hours of my life," admitted Negri. "It was awesome when I was in the car, but once I got out, I couldn't take it. I don't know how my wife can do it!"
The #8 had looked strong thanks to impressive long spells behind the wheel by former F1 driver and Le Mans veteran Allan McNish, but went off the track while in the hands of co-driver Lucas Luhr which put it off the lead lap for a spell. After a flurry of late cautions tightened up the field again, McNish clashed with Allmendinger two hours from the end of the race, with the two making heavy white-knuckle contact while battling side-by-side on the banked high-speed superspeedway section of the course, which left McNish fuming over Allmendinger's conduct when he climbed out of the car.
Firestone Indy Lights duo Gustavo Yacaman and Jorge Goncalvez combined with NASCAR's Michael McDowell and teenage British Formula Three champion Felipe Nasr to claim third place for the second Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian car, with the #6 the final entry running on the lead lap by the end of the 24 hours.
At one point during the night, the two Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley cars threatened to dominate the race despite being somewhat underpowered compared with the Ford teams. But the #02 car driven by Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya lost four laps when the gear shift lever broke overnight, and it ended up finishing the race in fourth place a lap off the podium trio.