The fledgling Michael Shank Racing team’s hopes of securing a berth at this year’s Indianapolis 500 are looking dead in the water, with the team electing to release signed driver Jay Howard (pictured) so the Englishman can pursue a drive with another team ahead of this month’s oval race.
The team had only confirmed its signing of Howard a week ago, but the deal was optimistic at best given that it still does not have an engine deal bedded down for the Indy 500.
The formation of the team – a joint venture with Michael Shank, businessman Brian Bailey and NASCAR racer AJ Allmendinger – was announced late last year, with the team claiming it had secured an engine deal with Lotus.
But the story later took a strange twist when Lotus confirmed its engine deals with other teams – including Dragon Racing, HVM Racing, Bryan Herta Autosports and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (the latter two have since parted ways with Lotus) – but it would not confirm its apparent deal with MSR.
The apparent split was seemingly all but confirmed when MSR failed to appear at any pre-season tests, nor has it appeared at any of the opening four championship rounds. For all intents and purposes, the team appears to have stalled, despite the MSR operation’s success at winning this year’s Dayton 24 Hours.
Having also seen that the Lotus engine is far from a competitive prospect, Shank then pinned his hopes on rival engine suppliers Honda and Chevrolet by declaring he would rather have “anything but a Lotus” powering his Indy 500 entry.
Beggars can’t be choosers, as the old saying goes, and now it looks like MSR’s hopes of getting any kind of engine deal are toast.
“We’ve not made the progress that we need to in terms of having our package finalised and having an agreement with a motor manufacturer,” Shank admitted in a statement yesterday.
“But I don’t want to keep Jay from realising his [Indy 500] dream, either. The last thing in the world I want to do is to hold Jay back from getting the chance to do that.”
Shank’s statement gives rise to suggestions that Howard will throw his lot in with one of two teams that still have driver vacancies in their provisional Indy 500 line-ups, those being Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Ed Carpenter Racing, which are both expanding to two-car entries for this event.
The news now means that this year’s event is sitting on a 33-car entry list, the smallest since 1947, which would mean that all cars would theoretically qualify for the 500-mile race.
It’s not unknown for last-minute entries to crop up in the weeks before the event, but given the scarcity of available engines across the board, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely.