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).
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.
“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.”