MSR and Conquest likely to miss St Pete
16 February 2012
Michael Shank has conceded in a press statement that he "isn't where he wants to be just yet" in his bid to launch a new team, MSR Indy, in time for the start of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season opener at St Petersburg.
"We've got the car in the shop and the people we need to go run the car, but at this point we are still working to have the full budget in place to go racing," said Shank, who is fighting to launch the team with backing from Penske Racing NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger and Columbus-area businessman Brian Bailey.
According to the press statement, the fledgling team "had a setback as an anticipated partnership program for the MSR Indy campaign did not develop as had been intended." Shank also missed out on winning any share of the IndyCar Series 'Leaders Circle' funding subsidies, announced at the start of this week.
It's thought that the partnership program in question is related to one of Paul Tracy's backers who has pulled out at the last minute. Tracy still hopes to pull together enough sponsorship to bring to the team in exchange for a race seat for his final year in the sport, and is said to be in talks with a Canadian sponsor that could be interested in a marketing program built around Tracy's 'farewell tour'.
"I want to run PT, that's been the plan for the last eight weeks," Shank said, but he conceded: "This setback didn't help, and there's a small chance it could be someone else."
However it is now reported that the team have at least nailed down a customer engine deal with Lotus. The team had held off on signing the final contract in the hope that Tracy's involvement with the team might give them a shot at a Honda deal instead, but Honda says that it has now reached its absolute limit in the number of teams it can service in 2012.
Shank isn't giving up on making it to the season opener next month, but admits that it's going to be an uphill battle given that the other teams are already well into their pre-season track activities.
"Obviously, there are folks out there testing right now and that is the best case scenario to be in. We've got a little bit bigger hill to climb at the moment, but we are not giving up by any stretch," he said.
"I don't want to be in a position to just go out and make up the numbers - we want to show up and have a competitive presence," he continued. "My main goal is to make this thing work, and if that means working with a technical partner to make it happen or just focusing on particular races, then so be it."
MSR Indy may not be the only team forced to sit out the first races of 2012, with SPEED.com also reporting this week that Conquest Racing looks certain to be absent from the season opener at St Petersburg - and may not even make it onto the starting grid before the Indianapolis 500 at the end of May.
"Right now, I think we will have to miss the first four races," said Conquest owner Eric Bachelart, whose team has been a part of IndyCar for ten straight seasons. "We have to plan like the season will start at Indy."
Bachelart admitted that engine supply talks with Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus had hit a dead end for the time being. "We have not been able to do anything with our car because we have no engine for it," he conceded. "We would like to be out testing right now, so it's quite frustrating."
The uncertainty about an engine means that Bachelart can't even have serious discussions with any of the dwindling number of drivers still in the market for a seat. "Until I can confirm I can get an engine, I'm a bit stuck. It's hard to sell a program when you can't tell people when your season will begin, or how many races you can do."
Bachelart added that he now has to rely on the IndyCar Series itself brokering a deal with a manufacturer to ensure that Conquest isn't caught out by a shortfall in engine supply capacity to teams in 2012.