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Without a Shank seat, Allmendinger opts out of Rolex 24 pursuit

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AJ Allmendinger is one of the notable drivers absent from this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, after being a regular in the race for the better part of the last decade.

The Californian, now 35, raced for Michael Shank Racing from 2006 through 2016 at the Rolex 24, and was a key cog in the team’s overall race win in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

But with Shank’s team having earned the right to run Acura’s factory program within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, there was a different focus on who the extra drivers for the Rolex 24 would be.

Beyond Shank’s four full-season drivers in the pair of Acura NSX GT3s, Tom Dyer and Mark Wilkins have been added as the full-season endurance race extra drivers, while IndyCar stars Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay have received the nods as fourth drivers for Daytona.

That’s a move Allmendinger understands, and without a shot at driving with one of his best friends in racing, he opted not to pursue an alternative for 2017.

“Most of it was the fact he got that Honda deal, which was awesome for Michael Shank,” Allmendinger told reporters during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.

“All the years, he’s been working by himself. John Pew was huge for 10 years. (Getting) Honda was special. They wanted their IndyCar guys in, which I totally understand.”

Pew retired from full-time driving at the end of 2016, although Shank told NBC Sports in December that a seat is aways warm for him in any car Shank fields. The team has desired to return to the prototype ranks at some point, although the Acura deal is a multi-year program.

For Allmendinger, whose bout with Starworks Motorsport’s Ryan Dalziel and Allan McNish in the 2012 race marked his most memorable sports car drive of his career as he fought against full-time sports car stars, it’s the less-fun things that go with the challenge of Daytona he’ll appreciate missing.

“I was a bit beat up the end of last year,” Allmendinger said. “Part of doing that race is doing it with Michael Shank for 10 years.

“So I didn’t know (anything else). It would be strange not running with him.

“I’ll miss it until 4 a.m., until I’m sleeping, because getting the knock to wake up isn’t good!”

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for seventh Indianapolis 500 bid

Photo courtesy Dale Coyne Racing
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Pippa Mann announced Tuesday that she plans to drive in her seventh Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

The native of Ipswich, England will once again return to race for Dale Coyne Racing, with new sponsorship by Donate Life Indiana.

She had previously been sponsored the last four years in the 500 by the Susan G. Komen organization. She’ll continue to carry logos of that organization on the front wing of her car in the 500, Mann said.

Mann, 34, has raced six times in the 500, with a best finish being 17th in last year’s race.

Mann will fill out the four-car Dale Coyne Racing field for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. She’ll be teammates with Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda in a partnership with Vasser-Sullivan), Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda) and Conor Daly (No. 17 U.S. Air Force Honda in a partnership with Thom Burns Racing).

Mann will make her first practice laps for this year’s 500 on Tuesday, May 15. Qualifying is May 19-20.

Mann’s No. 63 Honda will have a significantly different look than in the last few years. Instead of pink, her car will feature a silvery blue and light green paint scheme wrapped around a Donate Life Indiana logo.

“I am honored to have been asked to drive the Donate Life car this May and to partner with Donate Life Indiana as an ambassador to raise awareness on our mission to help reach even more Hoosiers through our education efforts,” Mann said in a media release. “This is obviously a campaign with a pretty deep personal meaning for me, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to join the racers carrying this cause forward.

“I also want to thank Dale and Gail Coyne for once again giving me this opportunity to pilot one of their entries this May. This will be my sixth year with Dale Coyne Racing and I’m truly grateful that they allow me to do this every year.”

Mann will also serve as a spokesperson for the organization and to raise awareness for youth education initiatives in Indiana, most notably organ, tissue and eye donor registration.

In addition to her driving duties in the 102nd running of the 500, Mann will also visit schools across the Hoosier State to speak about the importance of organ donation and transplantation.

“Our education team is committed to partnering with Pippa and students and teachers across the state to bring the message of organ donation and transplantation to as many students as possible,” said Steve Johnson, board chairman for Donate Life Indiana.

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