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Shank: Indy appeals, but ‘cannot dilute sports car program’

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Whatever the next step for Mike Shank and his eponymous Pataskala, Ohio-based Michael Shank Racing operation is after this year’s factory-supported Acura NSX GT3 program, will see the focus on his sports car program supersede any potential full-time entry into the Verizon IndyCar Series.

INDYCAR needs new blood in team owners and Shank, passed over somewhat unceremoniously for the factory Acura prototype program announced by Team Penske on Tuesday, has expressed his interest in joining the championship.

But what Shank has built in sports cars over the last 15 years, first in GRAND-AM with a Daytona Prototype through to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a Ligier JS P2 Honda, then this year’s Acura effort, will come before any full-time IndyCar bow.

“I just got a text today from INDYCAR asking how I’m doing,” Shank told NBC Sports.

“Every six weeks, INDYCAR will check in with me, and ask if there’s anything they can do to help. They want teams, and they want to help make a lot of difference, and I appreciate that.

“But what I cannot do is dilute my sports car program, especially the factory relationships we’ve worked so hard to build.

“You see what happens when you take an almost billionaire in (Kevin) Kalkhoven and now he can’t do it anymore. There’s a lot of empty space on IndyCars. I have to be very careful to do more. But if I can do the Indianapolis 500 every year without sacrificing my program, I want to keep doing that.”

Shank’s efforts to build the team beyond a sports car only program have been amplified in the last two years. The team’s debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year was an unquestioned success – ninth in LMP2 and 14th overall in a 60-car field for the small crew and a lineup of Shank lifers Ozz Negri and John Pew plus eventual Porsche factory ace Laurens Vanthoor was nothing to sneeze at. This year’s Indianapolis 500 debut has showcased Shank in an IndyCar paddock, albeit not without its challenges, but the team fought through in tandem with technical partner Andretti Autosport and rookie driver Jack Harvey.

This year, what Shank has shown is an ability to launch a new car from the ground up. In tandem with Honda Performance Development, HART and RealTime Racing, the Shank Acura NSX GT3s have developed over the course of the season into a race winner – arguably sooner than anticipated – with Andy Lally and Katherine Legge breaking through both in Detroit and Watkins Glen, and then coming second at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Negri and Jeff Segal have endured nearly all the team’s bad luck and don’t have a result of note to show for their own performance.

No. 93 Acura and No. 63 Ferrari have been on a roll in GTD. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s been a huge amount of work, no question, more than anything I ever did in prototypes because this is bringing a car to life from its infancy,” Shank explained. “Ligier had done a lot of the work with the P2 car.

“In this case we started with a new piece, and early on, we were definitely challenged. That’s not to say we’re not now. Consider this car is only six or seven races old, period. To be honest, we have more things to explore with the car chassis-wise. We haven’t hit the sweet spot on the chassis fully, but we’re getting there.”

Shank explained what the whirlwind of the last three months has been this year. Harvey’s program was announced in mid-April at Long Beach, with the Shank component announced a few days later – unfortunately overshadowed by Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Indianapolis announcement the same day – but he described what was all entailed into making the Indy 500 program work.

“I never sit and reflect, but it’s fairly rare that teams get the opportunity to do what we have,” Shank said. “The experience with me and Tim Keene and others that have worked in IndyCar allowed it to happen. It all happened fairly seamlessly.

“It was such a last-minute deal at Indy. But through the first week it simmered down and ran like a normal MSR operation. Andretti are the dominant force at the Indianapolis 500 right now – that cannot be denied.

“With that, we jumped over a lot of obstacles teams face. We had our obstacles in the first week, but with having them as a partner it made it easier to get through.

“The people… that was all my guys. It wasn’t from Indianapolis or from another team. And so that was kinda my point, is that now we’re capable of doing anything.

“Le Mans? Prototypes? Win Petit? We’ve done that. Now Indy, we did. We can do GT and win races.

“We want to show the depth of what this team is capable of. I think that’s the biggest thing we took out of it.”

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”