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NEW JERSEY -- The next stop on the Grand-Am circuit is this weekend’s New Jersey Motorsports Park 250 presented by Crown Royal. Ford Racing drivers Ozz Negri, John Pew and owner Michael Shank participated in a national teleconference Wednesday afternoon to talk about that race and their season to date.
OZZ NEGRI, Co-Driver, No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley
Q. YOU HAVE TWO STRAIGHT PODIUM FINISHES CAN THAT STREAK CONTINUE THIS WEEKEND?
A. I certainly hope so. We’ve been working hard. We sense that we are in a really good zone. Everything we’ve been doing has been working in our favor and, I think, keeping our same recipe with John doing the good job he’s doing – the team has been just fabulous with strategy and preparation of our Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley – I think we can be there again.
JOHN PEW, Co-Driver, No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley
Q. YOU AND OZZ SEEM TO BE COMING ON STRONG AS A DRIVER COMBINATION WITH THIS BEING YOUR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER. HOW IS THE CHEMISTRY?
A. It’s been fantastic. I’m really lucky to have Ozz as a co-driver. He’s just a wealth of knowledge and a great coach, and I’m also fortunate that we live close by in Florida, so we get to see each other a lot on the weekends and during the week at the go-kart track, where he helps me out a lot. The chemistry is just really good. He knows what I’m thinking before I even think it on the race track and lets me know on the radio, or I just hear his voice in my head sometimes.
MICHAEL SHANK, Owner, No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley
Q. A FIRE DESTROYED ONE OF YOUR CARS LATE IN THE RUNNING OF THE SIX-HOUR RACE AT WATKINS GLEN. SINCE THEN YOU’VE HAD TWO PODIUM FINISHES IN THE NO. 60 FORD/RILEY AND SOME VERY COMPETITIVE RUNS IN THE NEW FORD/DALLARA. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS FIELDING TWO DIFFERENT CHASSIS?
A. It’s not an ideal situation for any team. We’ve built this team around having two of the same of everything so we could do instant comparison. It helps the engineers and it helps the drivers, so from that aspect, it’s not good. From the aspect of comparing the two best cars in the series, it’s more than perfect. So there is good and bad in all of this, but now we have comparative data that we can say, ‘OK, the Dallara is good here and here, and the Riley is good here.’ Or one is better all the time. Now we’ll get to see that in real time and make decisions on maybe what we’ll do for next year.
OZZ NEGRI CONTINUED
Q. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DYNAMIC OF GENTLEMAN DRIVERS IN THE SERIES?
A. It’s been working for me, I can tell you that. Since I started racing in the series I had Mark Patterson and now John, and I think we’ve been very successful. It kind of limits our race strategy a little bit, but sometimes when the yellow flags fall at the right place and the right time, it’s back to zero for everybody. We become like equal terms as the other pro cars. Me and John have been working a lot. We’ve been working together very heavily at the go-kart track and also on the Rolex race weekends and John, I think, his learning curve is really steep. He improved a lot in areas that I really needed him to improve, and it’s been working perfectly. Two podiums in the last two races and we’ve got three podiums this year. Hopefully, we can keep running very strong and very competitively until the end of the year.
JOHN PEW CONTINUED
Pro-Am drivers have always been a part of sports car racing and I’m glad to be a part of it. With Grand-Am they make a good home for Pro-Am drivers, too. It’s very, very humbling and an awesome experience to drive with and against some of the best drivers in the world, and I think the way the strategy works out sometimes with yellow flags and what-not that it really gives us a chance. And having a guy like Ozz and a team like Michael Shank together, I mean, I’m really, really blessed to be working with both of those guys.”
MICHAEL SHANK CONTINUED
Q. WHAT’S THE CHALLENGE TO GET THE CHEMISTRY RIGHT FOR PRO-AM DRIVERS?
A. There is a slight challenge to it, but I’m real lucky. John and Ozz met long ago when they ran Formula Mazda together and, actually, John introduced Mark Patterson to us, who Ozz drove with for four-and-a-half or five seasons. There was kind of instant chemistry there, so when Mark decided to go to Europe this year, John told me immediately. He said, ‘Listen, I want Ozz as my partner.’ And there was no issue there at all. It was instant. I’ve seen a lot of driver coaches in my 20 years of doing this and Ozz is the most intense person you’ve ever met and requires a ton of your time, and he makes sure that you understand completely. He uses input from all the data systems we have on the car, and in-car video, so, literally, John and he could be stuck in the trailer until midnight every night if John doesn’t finally throw his hands and say he’s got to go to bed. So what I think is beautiful about this arrangement is if a guy wants to get better in our series, Ozz is the right guy to do it, that’s for sure.
Q. WHAT DO YOU CONCENTRATE ON TO CLOSE THE GAP ON THE GANASSI TEAM AND BEAT THEM?
A. Obviously, we have to look at every part. Their program right now is hitting on every single cylinder, so not only is their motor the superior motor in the series right now, but also their car is the best handling car, probably, at most of the tracks. So, Ford does a great job for us. We’re working on that curve as hard as we can to make sure we’ve got maximum out of the motor. We work constantly to make our chassis better. We work a lot on strategy. You know, we’ve come out of the pits several times in front of the 01 and at least we have a fighting chance at that point. If you watched the Daytona race that we just have, Ozz restarted P3 on one of the last yellows and got to P1 and then here come the two BMWs like freight trains and there’s just nothing that we can do about it. Grand-Am has put a weight penalty on the BMW and there has been a lot of controversy around that, but I’ve been in the series for seven years now and, typically, every year you have a motor that stands out. It’s just the cycle of life in Grand-Am and it’s apparent. Anybody that thinks they don’t have an advantage is just fooling themselves right now. That’s okay. That’s the way our world works. When we got our motors in 2008, I think we had a slight advantage. It’s just the cycle of life here.
OZZ NEGRI CONTINUED
Q. YOU WON THE FIRST RACE AT NJ MOTORSPORTS PARK IN 2008. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT THEN AND HOW IT’S DEVELOPED?
A. I love that kind of track, where you’ve some eight-speed sweepers and a lot of switchbacks, and the track is really technical. Last year, we didn’t have such a good race. We got caught in an accident in the beginning of the race and it was raining a lot, so even though after when we came back on a wet track we were pretty competitive, so I’m really looking forward to this race again. I know it is physical. The competition is really hard. I keep saying that there are 13 cars that can win the race and we just need to keep working in every single area possible, trying to improve and trying to be there up front at the end of the race. I think we have the capability of doing it. I think our car is competitive. I think both of our engineers have great race strategy and I think me and John have never been as motivated as we are. I’m really looking forward to the weekend.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE UPCOMING CROWN ROYAL 200 AT WATKINS GLEN ON THE SHORT COURSE?
A. Watkins Glen is, for sure, one of my favorite tracks in the States because of the high-speed corners. We’ve always done well there, and it’s gonna be great to be racing that same weekend as the NASCAR race, where we can show the fans what Grand-Am is about and how competitive we are, and what a great show we can put on.
MICHAEL SHANK CONTINUED
Q. HOW IS IT GOING WITH THE TWO DIFFERENT CHASSIS?
A. I think it’s still going fairly well considering. Thankfully, John and Ozz, and their car, are operating pretty seamlessly through this whole process and the other car thrashing so much, so they are doing a great job maintaining where they’re at in the championship. We’ve had lots of meetings in regard to keep that focus the same and not change too much. Again, it’s a little bit tough because we have to create new systems that we want on the Dallara and that type of thing, which we’re in the process of doing, but the Dallara is a very, very good car. It’s surprised me. That car has led 30 laps in the last two races and the potential of that car, obviously we’ve seen the 10 car do pretty well every weekend, but I see great potential in the Dallara and we’ll see where this goes. I can’t tell you what’s gonna happen for 2011, but this is a great, great experiment, I can tell you that.