Full-time status a long time coming for Shank, Harvey

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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There’s an old adage that slow and steady wins the race.

Like in the old fable of the tortoise and the hare, sometimes the most successful people in life are those who work toward achieving their goals at a slower, more attainable pace.

After three years of competing in the NTT IndyCar Series on a part-time basis, Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Michael Shank and driver Jack Harvey now hope that their slow, but steady ascent into a full-time competition will bring wins in their future races. 

After forming a technical alliance with Andretti Technologies to run their first Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Meyer Shank Racing ran six races in 2018 and 10 races this past season in a technical alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now Arrow McLaren AP). 

Next year, the duo will renew their alliance with Andretti as they compete in their first full-time season. And while MSR’s path to full-time status has been a lengthy one, Shank is a firm believer that the team made the right decision of slowly wading its way into the IndyCar pool instead of diving head first into the deep end. 

“I think a lot of people in racing come in and blow their dough, and then they’re gone,” Shank told NBC Sports. “[They] create a lot of ill will and no-good for anybody.

“When we came to IndyCar, we went to the series and said ‘here’s our plan, and this is what we’re going to do,’ and they just kind of looked at us like ‘okay. That’s what everyone tells us,’ but we actually did it, and I think, in baseball terms, we’re probably batting .700 relative to hitting all of our goals. I think we’ve done a pretty damn good job doing what we need to do, and I couldn’t be much more happier.”

Michael Shank. Photo: James Black/IndyCar.

A former racer himself, Shank made his lone IndyCar start in the 1997 Las Vegas 500K. After hanging up the helmet, Shank shifted his focus to team ownership, with Michael Shank Racing competing in the Champ Car Atlantic Series and eventually the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series (now part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship).

Eventually, Shank made the decision to attempt to return to IndyCar racing as a car owner, and he bought a Dallara chassis in 2012 with the intention of running Indy.

However, Shank failed to secure a competitive engine, and thus the team never entered the hallowed grounds of ‘The Brickyard’.

“Back in 2012, I didn’t have the relationship that I have with Honda today,” Shank said. “In fact, I was a Ford team at the time in IMSA, and they have no presence here in IndyCar.

“It’s extremely hard to get into.”

Having lost money in his first attempt to run Indy, Shank was initially hesitant to return. However, changes in IndyCar management persuaded him to give the series another shot.

The only difference between 2012 and 2018 is Jay Frye,” Shank said. “Jay Frye put his hand out and put his arm around me and said ‘let’s make sure we get this done. What’s your plan, and how can we help?’

“It was not just me, though. There’s other teams like us that came in at the same time. Harding came in, Carlin came in, Juncos – we’re all part of that class that came in.

“All of us came from different backgrounds. I feel we’re doing as good of a job as any of those other teams.”

Since its first race in 2017, MSR’s path towards full-time status has been very carefully planned and orchestrated.

Though no driver or team owner wants to watch races from the couch, Shank said he believes that the path MSR took was the best one.

“What hurts us worse is to come in and be gone because we’re financially ruined,” Shank said. “That hurts the most.

“We had X amount of money, and we asked ‘how can we spend this amount of money? What’s the best, most efficient way to get results for our partners?’ They need results and so do we.

“We set out a very specific plan starting in ‘18, and we stuck to it by the letter. Everything we’ve done is by plan.”

Part of what has made MSR’s plan so successful is the fact that every year the team created a set of goals that they felt could realistically be achieved.

“This year’s goals were to finish in the top 10 as much as possible and transfer at least once in qualifying,” Shank said. “We did a good job of achieving that a lot of the time.

“Next year, as we roll into a full season, we want to be in the top 10 in the points from the get-go, and we want to have three to five podiums and three to five top fives, and the rest of them in the top 10. If we do that, we’re going to finish fifth or sixth in the championship, and that would be exactly a perfect goal.

“There’s going to be days were we finish 14th, though, and we get that. But we’ll just be trying to keep it even-keeled and not lose sight of that.”

So what does the team’s driver think of these goals?

“Our goals, our desires, between me, Michael, and everybody at MSR are totally in line with what we want to achieve in the time frame that we want to achieve them by,” Harvey said.  “I think this team is being built for longevity. That’s how I see it.

“I was happy with the plan and obviously wanted to stick around and be a part of it as long as I can.”

Like Shank, Harvey’s road to full-time status has been a long one.

Jack Harvey won the Freedom 100 in 2015. Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar.

After making his way up Europe’s ladder series, Harvey moved to the U.S. in 2014 to race for Schmidt Peterson in Indy Lights. Between 2014 and 2015, Harvey won six races in Lights, including the 2015 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis.

Harvey went rideless in 2016 before driving for MSR in its maiden Indy 500 the following year. Since then, Harvey’s scored four top 10’s in 19 IndyCar races, with best starting and finishing position of third, both of which came in this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

With MSR continuing to improve each season, Harvey he has plenty of trust and faith in Shank, and sponsors SiruisXM and AutoNation, among others.

“We just have so many good relationships that I still felt this is the team,” Harvey said. “This year we’ve shown what we can do, but I feel like we still got some gas left in the tank to be able to improve next year.

“We all have this thing called pride and we want to get the best results we can. I think between us, we all understand each other. There’s some difficult conversations, but we don’t shy away from them.

“We appreciate all of our sponsors. I think we look after them really well at the track and away from the track. We go racing with people we enjoy going racing with, who we all believe in. It’s very much a big team effort. I think the way we’ve expanded really shows that.”

Now with a full slate in 2020, both Harvey and Shank are hopeful to make the most of their first full-time season. Should the duo continue to impress next year, they could very well become one of the best feel-good stories the series has seen in a long time.

“The story of how we got from 2017 to now is an awesome story,” Shank said. “It could be a little book, actually.

“Let this effort win a big race at some point, it’ll be a true textbook example of how people can do whatever they want to do. You just have to be creative and treat people well.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter 

 

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”