MSR Indy, Michael Shank's IndyCar co-venture with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger and Ohio businessman Brian Bailey, has confirmed that it is releasing British driver Jay Howard from his contract to race for them in this month's Indianapolis 500.
The deal with Howard was announced just over a week ago, but always looked optimistic given that the team had not secured a suitable engine deal for the 500 mile race.
"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,' admitted Shank in a statement on Wednesday. "But I don't want to keep Jay from realising his dream, either.
"I know first hand how hard it is to have the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500," Shank continued. "The last thing in the world I want to do is to hold Jay back from getting the chance to do that."
His words imply that Howard has another prospective deal coming together, in which case it would most likely be with either Sam Schmidt Motorsport or Ed Carpenter Racing, the only two teams remaining on the provisional entry list for the May 27 race not to have attached drivers to their second cars.
Last week, Newman/Haas Racing said that they had withdrawn their own entry for the race, with general manager Brian Lisles saying that they had "simply ran out of time" in their attempt to field former F1 driver Jean Alesi in a Lotus-powered car.
"I have to keep moving forward and I remain committed to IndyCar and competing in this year's Indy 500," said Howard, adding that he regretted not having the chance to work with Shank, whose GRAND-AM operation won the prestigious Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona earlier this year. "I was really looking forward to working with Mike and helping him finally get into IndyCar."
MSR Indy always seemed like a long-shot to make the Indy 500 grid, given that the team are finding it impossible to get Honda or Chevrolet to hand them a one-off engine deal for the race even when calling on IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard for help.
"I've burned up every favour I could think of, called anyone who would be willing to listen, and been trying to work with Randy to just be able to get a motor," admitted Shank. "But the hole in the back of my DW12 is no closer to being filled than it was when we filed the entry.
With Newman/Haas already having withdrawn, and MSR Indy looking unlikely to make it into the event now that they have had to part with their signed driver and his sponsors, the entry list for the Indy 500 is down to just 33 cars to fill the 33-place starting grid.
However, it's not unknown for last minute entries to be added to the race right up to qualifying, especially if an open grid slot is guaranteed without the need to battle through Bump Day qualifying.