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Wilson/Allmendinger car wins Daytona 24h

29 January 2012

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.

The second CGR car - the defending race-winner #01 driven by Joey Hand, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas alongside IndyCar driver Graham Rahal - looked set to carry the Ganassi colours into podium contention until the last hours, when the car lost its three lowest gears while trying to exit from pit lane. Repairs cost it four laps, leaving it classified in sixth place behind the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette.

"It was a great race, an epic 50th Rolex 24," said Chip Ganassi. "My congratulations to Mike Shank and Ford for a fantastic race - but I don't want them to get too comfortable in Victory Circle!"

Veteran open wheel racer Paul Tracy was among the drivers of the #77 Doran Racing Ford Dallara that finished in seventh place. Tracy also revealed in a pit lane interview during the race that he was in advanced discussions to drive for Michael Shank's newly-formed IndyCar team in 2012, that Shank has set-up in partnership with Allmendinger.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - who looked to be out of the Daytona 24h altogether when the original sponsorship for the #2 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley fell through earlier in the week - helped his team finish in tenth place.

Even more last minute was the addition of Hunter-Reay's IndyCar team mate Marco Andretti to the driver line-up of the #2 less than 24 hours before the start of the race. Andretti was granted a late license to drive despite never having sat in a Daytona Prototype or raced on the GRAND-AM track at Daytona before, and he acquitted himself admirably as a safe and fast pair of hands. However, the combination of a full Saturday of open-wheel testing combined with long runs at Daytona left Marco dehydrated and suffering from cramps, and he required rest and an IV drip before he was allowed to fly home.

By contrast, Ryan Briscoe had no chance to even get out on track after the #10 SunTrust Racing Corvette DP suffered engine problems just 14 laps into the race in the hands of Max Angelelli, and had to retire. "It's really disappointing but at the same time this is what happens in this game," said the crushed team owner Wayne Taylor.

NASCAR Sprint Cup 2011 Rookie of the Year Andy Lally led the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 team to victory in the GT class after 727 laps.

"I absolutely knew that we had the potential to do it," said Lally. "It was a pleasure to be able to join the team. It was absolutely epic ... There were lot of really strong race cars out there. We were a little bit off sequence, I think I had a little bit fresher tyres."

Lally's IndyCar rookie counterpart James Hinchcliffe, racing with Marino Franchitti, helped the #70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 to sixth place in the GT class and ended up five laps off the leader. NASCAR owner-driver Michael Waltrip and extreme motorsports star Travis Pastrana (who will join the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012) finished in 22nd place in the #56 AF-Waltrip Ferrari 458.

The race was started at 3.30pm local time (8.30pm GMT) on Saturday afternoon with the command to start engines given by Sir Jackie Stewart, standing in at short notice as grand marshall of the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 24h after AJ Foyt had to pull out with complications following earlier knee surgery.


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