Wilson and Rahal with race winner Sebastien Bourdais in Edmonton LAT Photo
Following up the announcement of Michael Shank Racing’s 2008 full Rolex Sports Car Series season driver lineup, team owner Mike Shank announced today that Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal will join Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford-powered Riley in the 46th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona this January.
“I’m excited to have Justin back with us and we’re really looking forward to Graham being part of the team as well,” said Shank. “Justin is quick in anything he gets into and was a big part of our success in 2006. We expect some big things out of Graham as well - he tested with us last season and I am happy he could be a part of this effort. We are really excited about our package with Ford behind us. Our drivers really liked the new Pirellis and while there is a lot of work ahead for us, this whole team is really pumped up about the 24.”
Wilson, who raced in Formula 1 with Minardi and Jaguar before coming Stateside and emerging as a top competitor in Champ Car, made a remarkable debut in the Rolex event in 2006, sharing the podium with Patterson, Negri, and AJ Allmendinger after taking second place overall. Wilson made his second Rolex Sports Car Series start this September as he rejoined the team in the final race of 2007, co-driving with Negri and Patterson at Miller Motorsports Park.
“I really like driving with Mark and Oz and it should be good fun to have Graham in with the team as well,” said Wilson, who was recently named as recipient of the Greg Moore Legacy Award for the second time. “I get along with Mike (Shank) and his whole team really well. It’s a good atmosphere and we know we have a great opportunity for a good result once again.”
Wilson brought his previous experience at Le Mans, where he set the fastest lap of the race of all non-Audi entrants in 2004, to bear in the 2006 Rolex event as the team raced to the podium. While the affable Englishman found the second place finish to be satisfying, it left him looking for another chance for victory in the January endurance thriller.
“For a 24 hour event, this race always makes for amazingly close finishes,” said Wilson. “There are a lot of really strong teams with great drivers from all over so I expect that it will be another competitive race,” said Wilson. “I think having already worked with Mark and Oz and all the guys on this team is going to be a big help, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to it in testing.”
For Rahal, the 2008 will mark his third consecutive start in the event, which his father won in 1981. The youngest-ever racer to score a podium position in Champ Car competition, Rahal was part of the pole-winning GT entry in the 2006 Rolex 24 before making his Daytona Prototype debut in the 2007 edition of the twice-around-the-clock classic.
“It’s exciting for me to be a part of this effort, and with Ford being behind the team, that certainly helps,” said Rahal. “I think this is going to be a great combination and we should be really competitive.”
The race won’t be the first time Rahal and Negri have worked together, as Negri served as a driver coach and Official Test Driver for Formula BMW USA in 2004 as Graham made the move from karting into race cars.
“I always had a good relationship with Oz but of course, it will be a whole different deal driving with him this time around!”
Despite his youth, the significance of the all-star endurance classic isn’t lost on Rahal.
“The race itself is a historical event-one that you really want to win. Every time I walk into a jeweler, it’s the first thing I think of when I see that watch-how great it would be to win a Rolex,” said Rahal. “Knowing all the people who have won it in the past, there would be a great sense of pride having that watch on your wrist. Between Daytona, Indy, Sebring, and Le Mans, those are four races any driver wants to win and it would be really fantastic to knock one of those off the list! Dad has done it so it’d be great to do it again for the family.”
The team will reveal the full team driver line up for the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona during the Test Days on January 4-7.
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