By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
With improved Saturday temperatures in and around Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course, drivers were able to focus on getting into the car for driving’s sake and not merely to seek comfort derived from the heat generated by sitting just in front of the Ford EcoBoost twin-turbocharged engine.
“It was so cold yesterday (Friday) even I thought about climbing in and taking a few laps,” team owner Mike Shank said of the No. 60 Ford EcoBoost Riley prototype that will be seeking to score a second Rolex 24 At Daytona win come Jan. 25-26, having in 2012 scored the biggest win in Michael Shank Racing history at the 50th Rolex 24 At Daytona.
With the Ganassi team concerned about weather-front squeezes, Shank will be the only Ford EcoBoost-powered car that’ll likely take advantage of the predicted 74-degree high Sunday.
“Yep, we’re heading home,” No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley driver Scott Pruett said shortly after the decision early Saturday evening. “Rain is coming in from the south and more importantly snow is coming in from the north and so they don’t want the trucks to get hit from either direction.”
As for what was learned during two out of three days at The Roar, “A lot. We learned a lot. I’d say we learned that we’ve got so much more to learn that it isn’t funny. There’s a lot to digest between now and the Rolex 24. The late rules this year put us so far behind that it isn’t funny.”
Perhaps no one bothered to tell NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray about all the things the team needed to learn.
McMurray, winner of the 2010 Daytona 500 on Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile sister course to that of the 3.56-mile road course, during the test’s cumulative 4th practice session on Saturday paced the Prototype division drivers with a lap of 1:38.980 (129.481 mph) in the No. 01 Telcel/Target Ford EcoBoost Riley. McMurray’s was the third-fastest overall time thus far. The fastest overall time through the four total sessions over two days into the three-day test was recorded by the Action Express Racing Corvette driven by Christian Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi posted a 1:38.630.
To be fair, though, McMurray wasn’t even aware he recorded his fast lap until well after getting out of the car he’ll share on Jan. 25-26 with defending Rolex 24 winners Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who besides McMurray will also this year share driving duties with reigning Indy Lights champion Sage Karam.
“Today we’re really trying to get the car comfortable for everyone,” McMurray said.
“The car is different from the one we raced here last year, with traction control, and it drives differently with the turbocharger. Absolutely, this would be a huge race to win. I’ve won the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400, and even won in go-karts here. It would be awesome to win the Rolex 24.”
Once asked as to how many times the Roush Yates Engine builders had put the new EcoBoost engine on one of the many dynamometers in the Roush Yates’ Mooresville, NC, headquarters, team manager John Maddox said, “I don’t think there’s been a time in the last six months when one’s been off!”
Of course, Maddox was overstating the engines’ testing, but he wasn’t really that far off.
Indeed, before it ever physically ran at Daytona just a little over a year ago, the engine had already “run” Daytona dozens of times.
Using data compiled from the successful 2012 Rolex 24 win by Mike Shank Racing, as driven by the same team that’ll pilot the car this year: Ozz Negri, John Pew, A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson. Data likewise has been lifted from other Ford-powered cars and drivers at various times over the years, allowing the dynamometer’s computer to be programmed with expectations generated by the 3.56-mile facility.
Whatever the aspect, even gear changes, were input and used for not only getting a grasp on what the engine can do, but what should be expected of it and what might be done to improve performance not only on the “fast” side but in fuel economy as well.
MSR has played a longtime, critical role in the new V-6 twin-turbocharged engine’s effort, all but wearing a groove in the Interstate highways that connect Columbus, Ohio and Mooresville, N.C.
“I tend toward long term relationships,” Shank said. “From drivers to the guys who work on the cars, a lot of them have been with me for many years. Even Ford Motor Company has been partnered with Mike Shank Racing since 2008 and I’m very comfortable with that. In fact, I’m most comfortable with that.”
Based outside of Columbus in Pataskala, Ohio, Michael Shank Racing opened its doors in 1989 -- in one of those ubiquitous “garage” shops -- in support of a young and very talented driver by the name of Mike Shank.
Nevertheless, though capable, knowledgeable and accomplished to a high degree, Shank one day concluded he was personally incapable of stepping up his effort sufficiently enough to compete with the likes of Michael Andretti or Scott Pruett, who today and like Shank is a member of the Ford Racing team.
“It’s kind of odd in one way but I’m fairly sure it’s something others see in their workplace, too, and that is someone’s ability to compete at the highest levels,” Shank said while providing a facilities tour a few years ago.
“If someone competes daily at, say, a 99-percent level of ability, that’s really quite good. It’s so good in fact that it’s probably way better than most of the population. But the guys who race, the professional racers, they compete at the 100-percent level. It seems so little, so inconsequential -- that one-point difference between 99 and 100 -- but it’s a huge difference in the real world. It’s a gulf. I thought that I might get there but I wasn’t absolutely certain that I’d for sure get there. And while I’m still uncertain that I’ll ever get to where I’d like to be in this racing ownership thing, I believe I’m far more likely to succeed at this (ownership) than get to the Michael Andretti or A.J. Allmendinger driving level.”
Twice-named Toyota Atlantic series’ Team Owner of the Year over a four-season span beginning in 1997, racing’s prevailing winds drove Shank to Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototype series for the 2004 season where the driver-turned-owner “put everything I had into this deal: my house, my cars, my cash. Man, I mean everything,” Shank said, emphasizing “everything” as he stood alongside his first Daytona Prototype, a Doran JE4 built by fellow Ohioan Kevin Doran of Cincinnati.
“If this doesn’t work I’m gonna be writing service orders in some car dealer’s service lane in no time,” Shank said in 2004 without even the slightest hint of joviality.
Today, Shank says, “That service writer job still is in the back of my head because I spend a lot of time thinking about this and worrying about that because my wife, MaryBeth, and I have never owed so much while owning so much. That being said, this ownership thing has been successful beyond my wildest imagination.”
“There are a lot of folks to thank for that success, not the least of which is Ford Motor Company, for hanging in there with me, and people like Mr. (Jim) France for doing the same thing.”
“The reality is, however, that I’m far from being done in this job. I intend to be up there some day with the Chip Ganassi’s of this world and now, thanks to Ford, I’m going to get schooled just that much better because Mr. Ganassi and I are now a part of the same team: Team Ford Racing.”