DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Ozz Negri was only slow getting in and out of his race car.
Negri returned to his car Saturday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona with a noticeable limp from his still-healing broken right leg. He was injured last month during offseason training when he fell of a mountain bike, and the cast was removed six days before the start of the biggest race on the Grand-Am schedule.
He drove one stint _ about 50 minutes _ for defending race champion Michael Shank Racing, the team he races for full-time in the Grand-Am Series.
“We are taking it conservative `cause we’ve got all the season ahead of us,” Negri said. “We don’t want to overdo it and mess up the rest of the championship. It was a bummer. It was something that nobody was expecting to happen.”
Negri and Grand-Am teammate John Pew teamed with NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson last year to win the Rolex for the first time for Shank. It was MSR’s only win of the season, and Negri and Pew finished ninth in the season standings.
Shank this year had NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose test the car earlier this month in place of Negri, and Ambrose is part of the official lineup this year. He’ll likely get a good deal of time in the car because Negri doesn’t want to do too much too soon.
He starts rehabilitation on his leg Monday.
“Whatever they need, I will be there for them,” said Negri, who admitted the month on the sideline was difficult. “The hardest thing is you keep positive. It’s like a roller coaster, really. There were days I was feeling great. I never broke any bone, so it’s all new to me. Anything I felt different, I felt a little setback.
“But my beautiful wife and my family supported me all throughout. And I’m a fighter. I wouldn’t miss being here, so I did everything I could plus to get it the way it is right now so I could go on the gas.”
The injury was to the leg he uses for braking so Negri had to adjust and use his left foot Saturday.
“I hardly drove the car until the race, we were saving me as much as we could,” he said. “I didn’t have much time to gauge how much brake pressure to apply with the left foot. It’s totally different.”
The chances of repeating for the MSR team took a huge hit in the first hour of the twice-round-the-clock endurance race when a left-front tie rod broke on the No. 60 Ford Riley while Allmendinger was driving. The part affected steering and suspension, and left the car seven laps back.
The car lost several laps as the team repaired it, and Negri said they were pushing to get back on pace.
“There’s no hanging back there,” said Negri. “We need to be pedal to the metal, and we need cautions.”
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