Michael Shank Racing ‘maintaining expectations’ for first start in 24 Hours of Le Mans

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Michael Shank is being called something he hasn’t been in a long time: a rookie.

While Shank is a veteran race team owner, he’s never fielded a team before in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

That is, until this year, where Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian will support a car in the LM P2 class

“There are 23 cars in the LMP2 class, and two of my three drivers are rookies at Le Mans, so we’re keeping expectations maintained,” Shank said. “We’re going to try not to make any mistakes and see where that puts us.

“We’re going to be as competitive as we can be – trust me, we’re going to push! – but we want to focus on minimal mistakes from the team and the drivers and keeping the car running. We’re throwing everything at it.”

“Throwing everything at it” means using the same No. 49 Ligier JS P2 Honda that won for Tequila Patron ESM earlier this year at both Daytona and Sebring. Drivers will be Ozz Negri, John Pew and Belgian driver Laurens Vanthoor.

“The biggest challenge will be every day when we go to the track,” Negri said in a media release. “Every day will be a new experience for me. I’ll try to enjoy it the best I can.

“I can’t deny that my focus is 100-percent here with IMSA – I want to win races with John – but we want to represent IMSA well at Le Mans and do well for Honda and our American fans. I’ve never been there, and everybody keeps telling me it’s gigantic.”

Pew, meanwhile, missed the WeatherTech Championship race at Detroit last week to join the MSR crew at Le Mans for Test Day on June 5.

“It was great to get my laps in,” Pew said. “It is a cool track and there is so much to it – eight miles! Even with the simulator work and all the in-car video we studied, there is a lot to learn so I was happy to get as many laps in as I did.”

That occurred, even though the Ligier suffered heavy damage in an incident later on Test Day. However, the team scrambled to repair the damage the following day at the nearby Onroak Automotive facility and returned to test one day later at the Le Mans Bugatti test track.

“This was another outstanding effort from my guys,” Shank said. “Everyone rallied to do what they could to keep moving the ball forward. We’ve had great support from the Onroak guys.

“We were fortunate not only to have Ozz jump out of the car okay (after the crash), but also to look at the bright side, a lot of what we had to replace from the crash were things we had already planned on replacing for the race.

“So it added more work for us, but we were able to handle it without having to go all night or anything like that.”

Shank may have an ace up his sleeve when it comes to potentially having a strong debut at Le Mans: MSR’s minority partners, Curb/Agajanian, were part of the ownership team that saw Alexander Rossi win the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 last month.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”