All photos courtesy of IMSA

Shank embracing the newness of Acura NSX GT3 program

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Longtime Daytona Prototype-turned-LMP2 team principal Mike Shank is a perfect embodiment of a racing “lifer” (you can find out more about him here in his episode of this season’s Dinner with Racers), but is in the midst of his biggest transition yet as a team owner.

Far from running in the top class of either the GRAND-AM Rolex Series or IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Prototype, Shank’s now full-speed ahead in the testing and development process for the new Acura NSX GT3, with a two-car effort in the GT Daytona class.

Moving from a class where there were only eight full-time entries to one where a car count in the mid-20s is expected, with a brand new car, is a lot to take in.

But the test process – which concludes its 2016 calendar work this week at Daytona International Speedway – is going according to plan thus far. Besides the Shank crew, sister Acura team RealTime Racing (from Pirelli World Challenge) has been actively involved in helping preparations commence.

“Every time we take the car out, it’s getting better, literally,” Shank told NBC Sports at last week’s PRI Show in Indianapolis. “Every time it goes out the door, there’s more done to the car to make it endurance-worthy, comfortable for drivers, quick – it’s just a huge bucket list, a punch-out list of stuff to get done that we’re slowly taking care of.

“We’ll get our second car Tuesday (one from HPD) and that car will be at Daytona. The 93 car is one of our IMSA cars and the 86 car you see next week is kind of a test car.”

The aforementioned Nos. 93 and 86 represent the first year of Acura (1986) and the year Honda Performance Development was launched (1993).

Segal (left) and Lally (right). Photo courtesy of IMSA
Segal (left) and Lally (right). Photo courtesy of IMSA

The eight-driver lineup for the Tim Keene-led team has been confirmed with Ozz Negri and Jeff Segal (No. 86) and Andy Lally and Katherine Legge (No. 93) the expected full-season pairings. Tom Dyer and Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 86) and Mark Wilkins and Graham Rahal (No. 93) are endurance and Daytona extras. Barring any late changes, that’s how Shank expects the lineups to be processed.

Segal and Lally (above) are both GT past champions while Negri and Legge (below) move from longtime prototype careers into GT this season. That will require a bit of an adaptation, but Shank harbors no concerns about that.

Negri (left) and Legge (right). Photos courtesy of IMSA
Negri (left) and Legge (right). Photos courtesy of IMSA

“There’s no problem except for the ABS brakes, it just takes a little time,” Shank explained. “They’re a really different experience for drivers that aren’t used to it. We worked quite a bit on our ABS since our last test to get it better and I think we’ve made pretty good gains in. That’s just another system in the car we’re improving all the time.

“The difference between the P drivers, like Kat and Ozz getting used to ABS, that’s something Lally, Segal, Dyer and Wilkins all have a bunch of ABS time in different cars across the board. The beauty is we brought people in with lots of experience with other brands of GT3 cars, so we know where the bar is, we know where we have to be shooting for.”

The staff needed for the two-car, factory-supported effort is also a change. While Shank’s prototype team did run two cars for a number of years, the team has been largely a single-car effort for the last three seasons.

“We’ve added six or seven new full-time people, so we’ll bring 34 to Daytona to support two cars, which is a lot,” Shank said. “That’s just from the MSR side. Then you have the whole HPD aero, mechanical and engine side, and then the group from Italy that built the cars. So there’s quite a force of people to support this car.

“Not only is the car getting stronger, but all those relationships – because that’s really the backbone of it – are getting stronger too. We’re getting to know each other, getting to understand how information travels, what it takes to get things done, prioritizing things. It’s a big, big program. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to sell the car to people and we need to get it to that point, and we will. It just takes time.”

And GTD as a whole stacks up as a huge class next year. Acura, Lexus and Mercedes join the party along with existing manufacturers Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, BMW and potentially Aston Martin. That will make performance out of the gate for the cohesion of newness all the more important.

“If you look at all the competition, you’re really going to have to be good to be in the top-five, period, and check every category: pit stops, reliability, performance, you’ve got to work on the BOP thing, it’ll ebb and flow all year, I’m sure,” Shank said.

“They’re paying a lot more attention to fuel flows this year to try and get them equalized. That’s a big investment there. All the drivers, it’s very, very strong. But then again, across the board, the P category looks strong to me again, way stronger than it was predicted – and I’m happy to see that.

“So, in general, IMSA seems to have, to me, a lot of momentum going right now. Let’s see what we all do with it, but it seems pretty good.”

The one piece that’s meant so much to Shank – John Pew – will be a notable absence from the driving lineup. Pew went out on a high note as part of the winning lineup at Petit Le Mans in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

However, that doesn’t mean the two haven’t been in touch. Far from it.

“Almost every week,” Shank said. “We were together for 10 whole seasons and every year for the last 10 years, it’s all exciting, new cars, new stuff, new cars and new programs. There’s a little withdrawal, I would say.

“It won’t surprise me at all if or when he’s going to race something again. He really changed our world, he really helped us a lot and we helped him. It’s a great relationship and if he wants to race again, we’ll be here for him.”

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.