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Michael Shank Racing’s Deep Road America Roots
- Updated: August 2, 2016
– Continental Road Race Showcase Comes to Road America August 4-7 –
ELKHART LAKE, Wis., AUG. 2, 2016 – After nearly 61 complete seasons, Road America has played host to nearly every form of racing – from IndyCars to sports cars, NASCAR and even superbikes.
Veteran sports car team Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian is participating in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race as part of the Continental Road Race Showcase this weekend, but the team actually first began as a Toyota Atlantics team 20 years ago. And one of the tracks on the schedule for the group back then? You guessed it. Road America.
In fact, Michael Shank Racing team owner Mike Shank’s first experiences at Road America were as a driver and not a team owner. He raced at the track in Toyota Atlantics, but reflected back even further as he fondly recalled his very first race at the circuit.
“It was in 1989 and I qualified second in a club race,” remembered Shank. “It’s a great track, I loved it. Of course being a Midwestern guy, I raced at Road America in club racing all of my life. I raced in Toyota Atlantics at the track in 1996. And then again as a team owner, we ran several different guys there and podiumed a few times.”
After several years of Atlantics competition, Michael Shank Racing transitioned into the sports car ranks in 2004. But it wasn’t until 2011 that Mike Shank’s team finally returned to Elkhart Lake with the then GRAND-AM series before it merged with the American Le Mans Series and became what’s now known as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Since then, Michael Shank Racing co-drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri have finished among the top-five in each Road America event – the first four events in a Daytona Prototype before debuting a Honda-Ligier JS P2 at Road America last year. The team returns with the LMP2 car this year.
Both Negri and Pew also have deep roots at Road America that extend back to their open wheel days.
Pew took his first-ever laps in a racecar at Road America when he did a Skip Barber Racing event with his son Travis in 2001. It was then that he caught the racing bug and has since raced Star Mazda, Porsche Cup, Daytona Prototypes, and LMP2 machinery at the track.
“Road America is unique – it’s very long and has very unique famous corners,” offered Pew, who has raced for Michael Shank Racing since 2007. “It’s an old track and has a lot of history. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the IMSA schedule.”
Similarly, Negri recalls his first experience at Road America as a test driver for the Barber Dodge Pro Series.
“We went out in qualifying and that was my first time there and by the end of the session I was on the pole by quite a bit,” mused Negri. “As a test driver, I didn’t actually participate in the race. I would go out in the car and assess it and then the engineer would make the change to fix it and then I would go back out in the next session and see if it was fixed. It didn’t matter where I qualified, because I didn’t actually race, but we went out in every on track session that wasn’t a race.”
While Shank, Pew, and Negri recall fond memories from their first visits to Road America, when asked to reflect on their best Road America memories, each mention much more recent years.
For Shank and Negri, it was Michael Shank Racing’s runner-up finish in 2014.
“2014 was the first year of the new IMSA series and we went there and we were struggling with speed,” remembered Shank. “During the race we made just an incredible strategy call and ended up finishing second. And we almost won the thing after struggling all weekend! So that felt really good.”
For Pew, last year’s race tops his list at Road America.
“Last year was my best memory,” said Pew. “We discovered a leak in the fuel bladder on the morning of the race and had to basically take the entire car apart to fix it. It was a massive repair and the guys managed to fix it within hours in time for the race. But we were late for the grid which meant that we not only had to start from pit lane while everybody else took the green flag, but we also had to do an extra stop in the pit lane once the race had started. It was an unfortunate situation and I pushed really hard. It was one of the best drives I’ve ever had through all of the GT traffic. I gave the car to Ozz (Negri) in good position, so that’s my best memory.”
And as Michael Shank Racing returns to Road America in 2016, the team is looking forward to adding even more positive Road America memories to the already long list.
“I think we’re better than last year,” added Shank. “So I’m anxious to see where we sit. We have a whole year with the Honda-Ligier under our belts now, but the rules are a little different from last year, so it’s hard to say where we’ll ultimately be. But typically we run pretty well at Road America, so we have high hopes of a good finish.”
Everything for the Continental Road Race Showcase begins on Thursday with test sessions for all the classes from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be open karting all weekend at the Road America Motorplex plus the Road America Zip Line will be open daily.
There will also be a free Family Fun Zone for Children age 12 and under on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Turn 1, all children must be with parent or guardian.
Appearing in the Family Fun Zone at Turn 1 this weekend – photo opps with this Incredible Family will be available from Noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Kids, dress up as your favorite super hero and you may appear on the Road America Facebook page.
New this year compliments of Continental Tire is a special Car Corral inside the paddock at Turn 5, offering free corral parking to all makes and models of cars when purchasing your ticket at the Main Gate on Hwy 67, parking passes are available while supplies last.
Practice and qualifying takes up the majority of the day on Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., and there will be no shortage of things to do for fans as there will be a driver fan forum from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the Road America Center.
On Friday night, the Tour de Road America runs from 6 to 8 p.m. where fans will get a chance to bike around the track with proceeds benefiting the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer.
There are four basic registration options: $25 for a single rider, $100 for a family, $250 for a team designation and a $25 “friend of the ride” option. Purchase of a race ticket is required for registration. There also are special registration opportunities for IMSA drivers and team members. In addition, a variety of sponsorship and donor opportunities are available. Fans are encouraged to visit www.TourDeRoadAmerica.com to register.
Road America will also be hosting its Most Awesome Campsite Contest over the weekend. Judging takes place on Friday with announcement of the winner at the fan forum on Saturday. Winning campsite and campers receive free tickets of their choice and a campsite to a 2017 Road America event.
Saturday is an action packed day full of world-class racing. The feature race will be the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at 11:35 a.m. Practice and qualifying for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race fills the afternoon on Saturday as the best sports car racers in the world will be looking to get a good starting position for Sunday. Later on Saturday the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge will host its first race of the weekend at 4:40 p.m., then at 5:50 p.m., the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo takes to the track.
Sunday is just as exciting as Saturday with the second IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge race in the morning at 11:15 a.m. Fans will have plenty to look forward to throughout the day with autograph sessions, parade laps, and a chance to get up-close to the cars on the front straightaway before the afternoon action begins.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship hits the twists and turns of Road America at 3:05 p.m., with some of the best sports cars and drivers in the world looking for a win on the revered 4-mile, 14-turn road course.
Tickets and camping areas are available and additional event details, schedules, ticket pricing and camping information can be found at www.roadamerica.com or by calling 800-365-7223. New for 2016, anyone 16-years-old and under gets in FREE with a paying adult at the gate. All races run rain or shine.
About Road America: Established in 1955, Road America is located midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The world’s best racers have competed at this legendary four-mile, 14-turn road circuit for 60 years. The 640-acre, park-like grounds offer amazing viewing opportunities, fantastic concessions and high-speed excitement to hundreds of thousands of spectators each year. In addition to public race weekends, Road America offers a variety of group event programs, the Road America Motorplex for karting and supermoto, and the Road America Motorcycle and Advanced Driving Schools. For more information, visit www.roadamerica.com Follow Road America on www.facebook.com/RoadAmerica and on Twitter: @roadamerica or call 800-365-7223.
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