Story and photo by Vickie Miller

With the Daytona Rolex 24 2015 edition ended, I would like to recognize the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) race on Friday. So much is mentioned regarding the 24-hour TUDOR race, I feel the CTSC race is accidently forgotten. As with most support series races being held on a weekday, it is difficult for working fans to attend or follow the race. This year the CTSC race was very exciting while still being routine.

For the Grand Sport (GS) class, the 2015 race year appears to have started right where 2014 left off with the Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro on the bumper of the Rum Bum Porsche 911, but unable to pass for the lead. I can only imagine the “interesting conversation” being held between Stevenson driver Robbin Liddell and his crew chief as he was following the Porsche with the final laps winding down.

In the Street Turner (ST) class, I was screaming for my friend, Adam Isman, in the Porsche Cayman, and enjoyed his racing out front and so sad to see his car move down the chart due to running out of gas!

Especially in the CTSC series more than any other, I cheer for many drivers. Over the years, I have met many of the drivers and this finds me conflicted on which team to cheer on. However, this also means the chances are very good I will be happy with any outcome. My heart hurts for drivers suffering from race troubles which fell onto Corey Lewis and Tyler Cooke who never experienced race laps.

All Rolex 24 fans each year know there is going to be odd mishaps for several teams, but until the race event rolls on each lap, the fans never know which team will be hit and what will happen. With professional sports reporting websites providing race fans all the details, I am going to mention a few points which spoke to me.

Before the race, I understand the drivers’ meeting went long, but it appears during the meeting, re-entry onto the track after a spin was not covered! Sitting in my favorite horseshoe grandstands, I watched multiple cars spin-out or drop off the track surface, only to rejoin the race dangerously close to speeding cars resulting in the cars on track needing to swerve to avoid contact. One such car was the #19 Muehlner Motorsports Porsche, unknown who was driving at the time, but when his left front wheel went off the track, he turned back onto the track narrowly missing several PC cars.

Here is the video of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari who hits #007 TRG Aston Martin. Why did the Ferrari start to rejoin the race and not wait until driver, Brandon Davis, had passed?

Every time this happens, my mind returns to the 2012 Barber Motorsports Park Grand-Am car race, when the #43 Sahlen Mazda spun in turn nine, and the driver (not mentioning names but you can Google) decided to rejoin the race. He shot across the track right into the path of John Pew in the #60 Michael Shank Racing (MSR) Daytona Prototype (DP) Ford and John was trapped in the soft and wet dirt.

I was there and of course, I was devastated. I did not understand why the driver had to spin on the wet grass at the precise moment. Why not wait until the field had passed? I have always wondered, did the spotter tell the driver the path was clear? I understand it must be a sinking feeling to be sitting in an off-track car only to watch the field pass before rejoining. But safety should and must rule at all times. The few seconds or even a minute to wait for a clear safe opening to rejoin the race is tremendously more important and losing a few positions on the chart.

Heart breaking moments (in random order):

1) Colin Braun, who was in the CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09 Prototype Challenge (PC) class-leading position when troubles found him standing on the safety wall watching his car on fire.

2) On lap 735, Jordan Taylor had to pit and exit the car for exceeding maximum time in the car without a minimum break, and Ricky Taylor had to serve a stop-and-go penalty. The team finished with a podium P3 but had been battling for the lead.

3) There were several close calls on pit-road and entering pit-boxes with one including Jordan Taylor in the Wayne Taylor Racing car and Joao Barbosa in the Action Express Corvette when they made contact but no major damage.

4) While there has been much laughter about the Magus Racing Porsche hitting the possum, animals running across race tracks is not new, but can be very dangerous for the driver and the animal. I must admit when I see a squirrel run in front of my car, my first instinct is to swerve and not hit the animal. When racing at Daytona, a driver cannot lose their focus for an animal and sure as crap, can’t swerve!

5) What could be worse than the two Porsche factory drivers collide while battling with the TRG-AMR Aston Martin?

It’s all about the pole!

While there were many firsts in the 2015 Rolex 24 Daytona race, I was most interested in the new car occupying the MSR garage. After a successful test session at the Roar before the 24 event, where MSR debuted the new Honda HPD (Honda Performance Development) Ligier JS P2 entry, the car was ready to go from the very first practice session at Rolex 24 weekend.

The MSR drivers for 2015 where Oswaldo “Ozz” Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger, and Matt McMurry. During Thursday and Friday leading into the race start, the MSR #60 car topped each practice session.

After leading all practice sessions, Ozz Negri piloted the car for the qualifying session which awarded the #60 car the pole position.

I caught up with Ozz and here is part of our conversation.

For the pole lap, with the weather cooler than the prior practice sessions Ozz was “pushing the car as hard as I could” while he was listening to spotter Barry Waddell count off Ozz’s lap time and the two closest cars. From Ozz, “I can’t imagine doing this without Barry!” Ozz continues, “We worked very hard for it. We have to produce. In my mind there was absolutely nothing than the pole position. I put my head down and told myself to put everything together and put in a good lap.”

Was this the best pole result for Ozz? “It was a sweet pole, one of my best, but I loved the 2008 pole with teammate AJ. I never want him on any other car than mine!” Ozz is referring to the Rolex 24 Grand-Am race in 2008 where Ozz took P1 in qualifying in car #60 (with car mates Mark Patterson, Graham Rahal, and Justin Wilson) and AJ was in P2 in qualifying in car #6 (with car mates John Pew, Burt Frisselle, and Ian James) for a MSR front row start.

When asked the single biggest difference between the DP car cockpit inside and the Ligier JS car, Ozz mentioned the sitting position and the cockpit is a lot smaller which makes driver change a little challenging.

With the delivery of the Honda HPD Ligier JS car to the MSR shop in Ohio late in 2014, the team had little time to learn and build the new car before the testing at Palm Beach International Raceway early January followed closely by the Roar Before the 24 event.

Ozz discusses Honda and the testing, “Honda has been unbelievable professional. Gary Karamikian, Honda HPD engineer, has worked so hard to cover a lot of things in a very short period of time.”

The MSR team will prepare for the 12 Hours of Sebring race with a two-day practice in Sebring in mid-February. During the test, the car will be equipped with a different aero package than was use at Daytona.

Please read more about Oswaldo Negri Jr at website:
Team: Michael Shank Racing website
On Twitter, be sure to follow @OzzNegri @MichaelShankRac

Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is “just the way I see it”. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing