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Shank Racing, Ford GT Get Big Wins At Laguna Seca

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, May 1 2016

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Michael Shank Racing's Honda Ligier came up a winner on Sunday. (File photo)

Michael Shank Racing’s Honda Ligier came up a winner on Sunday. (File photo)

Ozz Negri and John Pew drove the Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Honda Ligier JS P2 car to its first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory Sunday at the Tire Monterey Grand Prix Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in California.

Negri led all but five of the final 31 laps on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit to give the team its first triumph since winning the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Also on Sunday, Ford notched a historic victory when the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing GT car driven by Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe won the GT Le Mans portion of the race.

“It feels like a curse has been lifted,” Pew said. “We’ve been on the podium a few times but not on the top step for a while. The team made a great strategy call. Ozz doesn’t stop thinking about our car 24/7. He called our engineer late last night and said ‘Let’s try this.’ It was a lot about saving tires. It was Ozz’s fault that we won.”

The two-hour race opened as a continuation of a dream weekend for Mazda Motorsports. The team ran 1-2 in all three practice sessions, qualified both cars on the front row and then ran 1-2 throughout the opening half hour of the race. TOTAL Pole Award winner Tristan Nunez paced the opening 25 laps in the No. 55 ModSpace Mazda Prototype, closely pursued by Tom Long in the team’s No. 70 entry.

Then, an incident involving two of the top three cars in the point standings sent the remaining Prototype contenders to the pits – with the Mazdas returning to action running fifth and sixth after encountering problems connecting the fuel probes on the pit stops. Only six laps later, Joel Miller pulled off course prior to the Corkscrew, losing power in the No. 70 started by Long that led to that car’s retirement.

Negri was third in line after taking over for Pew during the caution, but needed only two laps to take the lead from Sean Rayhall, with the No. 0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing electing not to change drivers on its pit stop.

With the Long/Miller car out, Mazda teammate – and Monterey native – Jonathan Bomarito then challenged Negri for the lead, only to spin on Lap 45 as the top two cars were coming up on slower traffic. Bomarito managed to continue and finished fourth, matching the team’s best finish.

From that point, Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP and Marc Goossens in the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP took turns out front during the final round of green flag pit stops. Negri took the lead on Curran’s final top with 40 minutes remaining, and led the rest of the way while the two Corvette DPs put on a spirited battle for the runner-up slot.

Goossens finished second, 30.099 behind Negri but only 0.855 seconds ahead of Curran. Bomarito took fourth, followed by Katherine Legge in the No. 0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing coupe started by Rayhall. “We showed everyone in the paddock that we have a car that can win races,” Nunez said. “That’s all that matters. We’re going to take what we learned here and move forward.”

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In GT Le Mans: Westbrook and Briscoe benefited by a mix of speed and strategy to earn the victory. Briscoe qualified the Ganassi Ford GT second on Saturday and slotted into second behind the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE of Daniel Serra through the early stages of the two-hour race. He ran one position ahead of teammate Dirk Muller in the No. 66 Ford GT until he pitted to turn the car over to Westbrook 45 minutes into the race.

During that stop, the car momentarily got stuck in first gear, and by the time Westbrook rejoined the field he had fallen all the way back to sixth in class. With the loss of track position, the team elected to conserve fuel.

“[The pit stop] cost us five or six seconds and five or six positions, and you aren’t going to drive it to the front from that position” Westbrook said. “So that’s what you get when you race with Chip Ganassi, you get out of the box solutions.”

The out of the box solution eventually paid big dividends. Westbrook worked his way up to second in the running order, behind teammate Joey Hand in the No. 66, as his other competitors made their final pit stops.

With 15 minutes remaining, Westbrook dove to the inside of Hand entering Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s famed Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2). With six minutes to go, Hand pitted for a splash of fuel, dropping him back to an eventual sixth-place finish.

Westbrook, meanwhile, had conserved enough fuel that he did not have to stop again, going on to score the win by 12.545 seconds over Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 68 Ferrari. It was Westbrook’s ninth career victory in major U.S. sports car racing and his third at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and was the 12th major U.S. sports car win for Briscoe.

“It’s just so exciting,” Briscoe said. “It’s been a tough few months getting this program running. These guys have been working so hard. We’ve struggled with battles. We struggled a bit with balance but figured it out. We just missed the pole, and to get the win for Ford is huge. It means a lot for me and the whole program.”

Third place went to Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, May 1 2016
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