Test Day Impressions from Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian's Pew and Negri

Friday, June 10, 2016

With 8.4 miles of pavement that includes the Porsche Curves, Mulsanne Straight, Ford Chicane, Tetre Rouge, Arnage, and Indianapolis, there is no other track in the world like Le Mans. 

Last Sunday’s Test Day offered Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri their first opportunity to lap the track, which made a big impression on the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona winners.  The Michael Shank Racing duo will join with Laurens Vanthoor for the 2016 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the Ohio-based team prepares for its debut run in the fabled race. 

Pew and Negri, who teamed for an IMSA WeatherTech victory last month, have put months of preparation into the 24, and the Test Day was the first opportunity for those preparations to bear fruit as both drivers completed their qualifying laps ahead of the official practice and qualifying sessions that will start next Wednesday. 

“It was great to get my (10 qualifying) laps in,” said Pew, who cycled through to get multiple stints in the car during the day as his times shrunk with the growing familiarity. “It is a cool track and there is so much to it—8 miles! Even with the simulator work and all the in-car video we studied, there is a lot to learn so I was happy to get as many laps in as I did.”

Not only is the track a new one, Pew and Negri are both competing in the LMP2 category. While that is the highest echelon of Prototype machine in the IMSA WeatherTech ranks, the ‘2’ in the name reflects the superiority-and massive speed- of the LMP1 machines from the factory Toyota, Porsche, and Audi efforts.  

“The closing speed of the P1 cars is just incredible, and you have to be so on your toes for them,” said Pew. “You want to be predictable for them. I haven’t been in a lower class where you have to watch your mirrors like that since I ran the Rolex 24 in a Corvette GT (in 2005, with Mark Patterson as one of his co-drivers). So that was just another thing to keep you on your toes out there.”

Negri arrived straight to the test day from the IMSA Detroit event, where he scored fifth in class with co-driver Katherine Legge, to get his initial laps in the car and start to learn the track in real life after extensive work in a simulator. 

“It was good to get the qualifying laps in and take care of that,” said Negri, who flew home after the test to be with his wife on her birthday. “It was a little frustrating to have so many of the laps be with a yellow flag or a slow zone because it kept me from exploring the limits like I was hoping to be able to do. This is a big, challenging track and I do not have much experience on it so this is a little bit different for me, not to have my normal attack approach. But we will get more time next week and just keep building on what we learned at the test day.”

With the track evolving with each lap of the Test Day, drivers had to continually adjust as the surface grew with grip while Pew and Negri grew their experience each time around the track. The data, and the seat of the pants experience, has them both looking forward to getting back to work next week and continuing to get more familiar with the track, which includes some daunting sections. 

“The Porsche Curves require a ton of commitment and getting through there well is really line dependent,” offered Pew. “So I know that is a section of the track where I can gain some time,  but I have to work up to that. Talking to Mark (Patterson, former Michael Shank Racing driver who has made several starts at Le Mans), he's had some very good advice for me for that part of the track. I’ve just got to build that confidence and the times will improve. You want to be as fast as you can of course, but the big focus is to finish this race. It’s a big undertaking for the team and they’ve done a great job.” 

Michael Shank Racing will present for Scrutineering in downtown Le Mans on Monday afternoon, with a busy schedule of appearances, driver meetings and official photos, as well as team planning ahead of the first official on-track action on Wednesday at 4:00 PM.

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