Today marked the official announcement of what some fans had feared for the last few days after seeing pictures of what appeared to be the Michael Shank Racing DW12 chassis in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports shop. Shank announced via Twitter today that the team has indeed sold the chassis outright to the SPM team.
“We sold the chassis to Schmidt early last week,” Shank said. “It’s an outright sale for right now.
“I’ve been approached several times during that time period [owning the car], and we just weren’t ready to throw in the towel. We were working on lots of different programs, and they were taking lots of different shapes and coming and going. This one was just the right time for us based on how things went for us in IndyCar and how I felt that I was managed there by them — and based on where sports car racing is, where it’s headed over the next five years, and how I’ve been managed by them. That made it a pretty easy thing right now.”
This news ends a tumultuous attempt to break into IndyCar racing for the MSR Indy program and Shank, a racing lifer who cut his teeth in open-wheel, most significantly in the Champ Car Toyota Atlantic Championship, before starting a successful GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype program in 2004. Politics and finances eventually proved too great of a hurdle for Shank to overcome as his inability to field a competitive engine torpedoed his IndyCar hopes before they even began.
“I have an inherent love of the Speedway,” Shank said. “I grew up three hours from the Speedway, and so we’ll continue to see if there are any opportunities there. I have a great group of 20-22 guys that are very good at what they do, and they are almost all open-wheel guys. If we can get a backer, maybe we can do a partnership with another team that has a second or third car. We tried to get a motor all the way up to the Mid-Ohio race last year, but there was just nothing doing.”
While the engine lease was the hurdle that kept the team off the grid in 2012, Mike said that the financial outlook for 2013 proved to be the ultimate demise of the program. “Now, the problem is just being able to raise the money to go to Indy and do it right,” he explained. “It’s just another battle that we would have to take on. With as good as we are doing with our sports car program right now, and the future of sports car racing, I need to spend my energy where I’m wanted and where I’m successful.”
Given Mike’s open courting of IndyCar and his desire to field a competitive car in the series, perhaps Shank’s most alarming comment was regarding how much contact he’s had with IndyCar since Randy Bernard’s departure and what had been done to help him find a spot in the series or encourage him to stay.
“They have never called me,” Shank indicated. “Not one time.
“Through the month of May, we were very intense with them. Very intense. After that, nothing. Virtually nothing. We had some leads pop up here about a month and half ago, and that was the first time I had heard from them since basically June. Then they had their upheaval and a lot of other things going on. My little deal was not really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. They were losing their leader, and there was a lot of stuff going on there.
“Their having new teams is not a priority, and that’s fine. That’s their strategy for now. I just think that it’s not a great strategy.”
Far from throwing the series under the bus, which would be understandable given the circumstances, Shank went out of his way to point out that his team ultimately had the final responsibility. “It could have been handled better [by IndyCar], but at the end of the day it’s up to us to get there and they don’t have to do anything. We all choose to be in car racing for whatever our reasons are. I underestimated the need for new teams, and I don’t mean in a financial way but in lots of other ways.
“I love open-wheel racing. I always have. That’s where I come from, and that’s what I love to do. It’s just hard to break into it.”
All hope is not completely lost, however. Michael Shank Racing has been approached by multiple teams about helping to field an entry this May at the 500, but nothing is set in stone as of yet. And Shank pointed out that any deal would be a partnership only and not a standalone team as he had tried to do in this instance.
“I don’t want to reinvest in that equipment right now when I’m trying to expand my sports car program,” he explained. “My investments go towards what works for me right now. If there’s a way we can contribute to another team that has the equipment and the motor lease, then we may look at that. We have no races (sports car) in the month of May. I want to be clear, though — I won’t do if it jeopardizes anything that we are doing in sports car racing.
“Three different groups have talked to me about it, but we haven’t had serious contract talks with anyone yet. The only way that it would work right now would be if someone else had the package ready to go and just needed a good team and good personnel to be able to support it. We have a lot of the equipment to be able to do it, and we would look at that potentially.”
The obvious question in the circumstances is whether Shank was at all apprehensive in retrospect at not having taken a Lotus engine to at least attempt to qualify for the 500 last year, even though it would have meant an early black flag due to a lack of speed. “Absolutely, positively not,” Shank replied in true racer form. “Zero regrets. Never, ever will I question that decision. That was the best decision I have ever made as a car owner. I paid my dues 20 years ago when I was coming up the ladder, so there’s no need to pay any dues now. I’ve paid my dues in full 10 times over.”
“We’re all trying real hard,” Shank concluded. “We’ve invested every dime of my life into racing, I promise you. It’s been very good to me, but it’s been very frustrating at times as well. But overall, I’ve been a lucky bastard to get to do it.”
To read the full transcript of John’s interview with Michael Shank, click here.