Team '90 percent' certain they'll compete at Le Mans in 2016.
Yes, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship team owner Michael Shank admits, his team is sort of on an island out there, running the only Ligier JS P2, powered by the only Honda engine in the field.
“But we have a lot of smart guys,” said Shank, “and they are making it work.”
They certainly made it work at the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic Presented by the Metro Chevy Dealers in Detroit on May 30, where Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian finished second to the winning No. 31 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP, of which there are four in the field.
The second-place finish for Shank’s drivers, John Pew and Oswaldo Negri, Jr., even surprised Shank. The Ligier is built in Europe, for typically smooth European tracks, and getting it to work on some of the short, bumpy street courses like Detroit’s Belle Isle and Long Beach has been a challenge.
With those tracks out of the way, the TUDOR Championship schedule is entering a “sweet spot” for Shank and his Ligier-Honda, such as the next race on the schedule, Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen, scheduled for June 26-28 at Watkins Glen International Raceway in upstate New York.
The six-hour enduro is part of the four-race Tequila Patron Endurance Cup, a competition separate from the IMSA season-long points battle. The Endurance Cup rewards the top finishers in the TUDOR Championship’s four longest races – the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours, and the season-ending 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta October 1-3.
This week, Shank’s team has been testing at Watkins Glen, “and it’s gone very well,” he said. “Our car is built for this track,” which is a smooth, fast 3.4-mile road course. Other upcoming road courses, such as Road America in Wisconsin and Circuit of the Americas in Texas, play right into the Ligier’s wheelhouse, Shank said.
Meanwhile, he and his drivers will be making a side trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans June 13-14, where he said it’s “90 percent” certain that his team will compete in next year. This trip is to scout it out and begin to figure out the best way to do it – drive their Ligier-Honda, and adapt it to the ACO standards required for Le Mans, which would require a different body, or – more likely – lease a Ligier in Europe.
Quite a few non-European drivers who run Le Mans go the leasing route since it saves transportation costs and typically the car comes with some crew members who are familiar with the track, its politics, its rules and the required setup for the car itself.
After that, it’s back to the TUDOR Championship, where Shank wants to improve on the third-place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the second in Detroit. “We’re carrying some momentum now,” Shank said, “and we’re heading to some tracks where we know we’ll be quick.”