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New 2012 team is first to sign with Lotus
13 October 2011
Former race driver Michael Shank has announced that his GRAND-AM racing team will be joining the line-up of the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 - and that it will have a Lotus engine providing the power.
Speaking at Las Vegas ahead of this weekend's 2011 season finale, Shank confirmed that he was setting up a new team under the name of MSR Indy and that he had already purchased one of the new 2012 IndyCar Safety Cell chassis that will be debuting on the track next March at St Petersburg.
It was the introduction of the new low-cost chassis that was key to Shank's decision, as it meant the return of a level-playing field in the series.
"We looked at it over the last few years, but I still couldn't compete with established teams that had the cars for so long," said Shank at the Vegas event announcing the 2012 entry. "It just wasn't the right time. All I wanted was the ability to compete at the same level. When this came on my radar, I thought this could be my shot."
Among Shank's backers and partners is NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger, who spent three years in IndyCar from 2004 to 2006 before his switch to stock cars.
"Obviously, I have a close connection to open-wheel racing, but add that to the chance to work with Mike and his organization and it's something that really appealed to me," said Allmendinger. "Mike is one of the hardest working guys in motorsports and he's a racer. I've always liked that about him, so I know he'll fight hard for MSR Indy's performance."
"There's never been a current NASCAR driver who's been involved in a deal like this," added Shank said. "He can reach across all three major series in North America and place partners where ever they fit in."
Although Shank confirmed that he had reached agreement with Lotus to be the engine supplier's first partner for 2012, he did not have any drivers to name.
"I'd like to be announcing our sponsorship and driver today, but we are not far enough on those plans to do that," he said. "But it was really important for us to come out here and announce our commitment to this program."
Michael Shank Racing will continue fielding entries in GRAND-AM. In the past, the team has also been active in the Ford Atlantic Championship and was behind Sam Hornish Jr's 1999 run to the Rookie of the Year title in that series, and has also been competed in the Daytona Prototype class in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, with drivers including Allmendinger and Justin Wilson.
Shank himself made one appearance as a driver in IndyCar in 1997 in a Nienhouse Motorsports car, coincidentally also at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"It was all about Indy. That place is a shrine to me," said Shank - and it's clearly an itch that he still feels compelled to scratch to this day. "In the back of my head the whole time I was thinking I still haven't gotten to Indy yet."
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