A.J. Allmendinger has not won a single major international racing event since his departure from open-wheel racing for NASCAR at the end of 2006. After toddling around the middle of the Sprint Cup mid-pack with Red Bull Racing for the last six years, AyJay has moved to the Penske seat vacated by the recently sacked elder Busch brother. Red Bull pulled their team out of the series at the end of the 2011 season, leaving Dinger winless.
A.J. entered the 2012 season hoping to change all of that.
I should think that A.J. was looking forward to the 2012 season, thinking of the promised land that a seat at Penske offers a driver. Even he, likely, would not have thought his first win in 6 years would come at the wheel of a Michael Shank Racing Daytona Prototype.
Shank has racing history numbering in the decades, and has recently been running in the Grand Am Rolex sports car series. The team have notched up a couple wins since their entry into the series. While they have had some luck, by no means have the team proven themselves the equal of the Ganassi juggernaut. Last year, at the Daytona 24 hour, Shank’s team finished in fourth, and the year previous in fifth, giving them a pair of “there or thereabouts” finishes.
Taking it a few steps further, Shank pulled out all the stops and finished first and third with his cars just two days ago.
New rules have given way for new chassis from Riley and Chevrolet, and both came into the weekend looking promising. Chevrolet’s Corvette DP had taken all of the pre-season testing honors, and looked on schedule to run away with the event. Bad luck and unreliability relegated the fastest of the Corvettes to several laps down. Riley’s new chassis was nearly as quick, and when fitted with BMW engines in the Ganassi cars and Ford engines in the pole winning Starworks motorsports car and the MSR number 60, proved significantly more reliable. Teaming with John Pew, Ozz Negri, and Justin Wilson, A.J. drove the No. 60 LiveOn Ford-Riley to a 5.198-second victory after completing a DP-era record 761 laps at Daytona International Speedway.
Supporting the sister No. 60 was the old-generation Ford-Riley DP entry number 6, which finished in third position with Michael McDowell, Felipe Nasr, Jorge Goncalvez, and Gustavo Yacaman fighting back from two laps down to finish less than one minute behind the winning car after 24 hours of racing. It is astonishing to have the top three cars blanketed by less than a minute at the finish of a twice-round-the-clock event like this.
From the huge assembly of previous winning cars and drivers on hand, the biggest crowd in the event’s history, the debut of the new Daytona Prototype machines, a huge GT Class field, Sir Jackie Stewart calling the race start, and another Rolex 24 field deep with international talent, the race held high expectations. And with 49 lead changes among 53 drivers, a record race distance covered, and a battle that ran at an unrelenting pace right to the finish, the event managed to exceed its high expectations as MSR won the race for the first time in team history.
“It’s just indescribable,” said Mike Shank of the team’s victory. “I don’t know what to say, I’m just so happy to be here – just thankful for the guys that do all the work for us, that hung in with us for those years and it all paid off today. 50th anniversary – it doesn’t happen but once. I always feel like I have to prove myself every step because I came from nothing more or less, and it’s because I’ve had great relationships with people like Ozz and John Pew that have really taken our business to another level.”
The Ford-powered DP dominated most of the race running in the top-three throughout the majority of the event. The team led a total of 249 laps with Wilson pacing the field for 92, Allmendinger for 90 and Negri for 67. Allmendinger has led laps in each of his seven Rolex 24 starts with Michael Shank Racing.
Both Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian cars ran a near perfect race with each entry leading laps and never going behind the wall for repairs as the Shank squad’s elaborate preparation for the historic event paid off in a big way. The race was the ninth outing in the fabled Rolex 24 At Daytona for the team, and the huge result was one that left them “as proud as pappas” as the team drove on to their biggest victory yet.
A.J. Allmendinger had much to say of his first Rolex victory: “The last seven years this whole team, Mike Shank Racing, went through a lot to get to this point, and it’s really cool not only to win the race but to have two cars on the podium, to have really all the guys that have worked really hard. It’s the same group of guys that I’ve seen for the last seven years, Oswaldo can attest to that and Justin can attest to that, that it’s a small group of guys that Mike puts together, and they work their butts off, and it’s really cool this year to have them get a well-deserved victory and a second car on the podium. I feel very fortunate. This is one of the reasons why I love this race, because it really kicks off Speed Weeks. It’s such a prestigious race. It’s one of those races you want on your résumé and you want to say that you were part of a victory.
Mike did a good job. He changed the driver lineup, said I was going to be in the car last, and gave me seven, eight hours to rest while Ozz and Justin had to do all the work in the middle of the night into the morning. I knew that every lap I had to just drive my butt off, every single lap. And I honestly feel like… I never try to give myself a ton of credit, but I feel like that’s some of the best three hours of driving I’ve ever done in my life, just every lap, whether it was being aggressive, whether it was trying to dodge GT traffic, I felt like that might be some of the best three hours of driving I’ve ever had in my life.”
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