IndyCar team owner Michael Shank prepared to ‘take the risk’ in return

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When the current NTT IndyCar Series shutdown began on Friday, March 13, was talking to team owner Michael Shank in the lobby of a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida.

That conversation was interrupted by a phone call.

In a matter of seconds, Shank’s face told the story. It was a look of disappointment, despair and concern.

Six weeks later, Shank remembers that call and his reaction as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“To be fair, sitting there in the hotel lobby, we didn’t take it as serious as I have with my guys today,” Shank told “I probably still thought it was overreaction on a lot of people’s parts, but we know now that is not the case.

“Thankfully, everybody on both of my teams is healthy right now. We haven’t done anything for six weeks other than to make sure the roof isn’t leaking at the shop, and the cars are up on jacks. We’re hoping to go back to work in a few weeks.

“We’re ready, man.”

There are signs that the curve is being flattened. Progress is being made in the ongoing battle against the potentially lethal virus that has shut down much of the world. But the progress may not be enough to allow large-scale returns to public life.

There remain far too many fatalities and new cases to say with any certainty when it is safe for large groups of people to gather.

Meantime, as the shutdown continues, jobs are lost, schools are closed, and families are struggling just to survive.

Shank understands both issues but believes at some point, the risk of returning to work has to be made.

“Absolutely, positively, we have got to get back to work,” Shank told “If there is some risk in that for all of us, then we have to take that risk. Our government cannot afford to keep us afloat like it is doing now.

“We are a small business. We applied for the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan, and we got it when we got in on the first batch. The team owners have talked about this. Some have gotten their money, and others haven’t.

“We can’t keep that up. We have got to get back to work. Whatever that looks like to stay healthy, then that is what we will have to do. Does that mean I’ll have to clean the shop three times a day and the trailers three times a day when we are on the road? Does that mean no fans for the first month of six weeks? That’s it.

“But if we don’t work, we’re going to lose a whole way of life for a lot of the industry.

“I get it. We’re being careful. Maybe it makes sense to wait a little bit. I’m on board with that. When do the cars need to be ready on the IndyCar side? Then we back it up two weeks to get back in the shop and get ready for that first race, that is what we will do.”

IndyCar is following all governmental procedures during this shutdown. Many of the teams are based in the Indianapolis area. Team Penske is located in Mooresville, North Carolina, and Dale Coyne Racing is in Plainfield, Illinois.

All three states have different “Stay at Home” orders.


Meyer Shank Racing took the leap of faith to run a full-time program in the NTT IndyCar Series this season with driver Jack Harvey. But like all teams in the series, it never got off pit road.

“Jim Meyer and I for the past three or four weeks have been looking at how to go forward and keep our partners in play and work with them,” Shank said. “They are hurting, badly. What do we have to do to make sure we keep that relationship? In our mind, what are we going to do to help them? They need help.

“We came up with a plan pretty quickly. I give credit to Jim Meyer on that one. He is built for this kind of stuff. Jim is a high-level CEO that thinks way outside and way forward. He helped us through it.

“We want to keep 2021 intact. For us, it’s 2021 we are talking about now. We want to get through 2020 and lose the least amount of money possible and move forward. Knock wood, we aren’t through this, but we’re in reasonable shape.”

Shank’s team planned on a full-time 2020 effort. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing were planning on increasing from an Indy 500 only effort to include races at St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

St. Petersburg is expected to return in October, but the Detroit doubleheader has been canceled for 2020.

With Roger Penske as the new owner of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this was going to be a “Renaissance season” for the series.

Instead, it has been forced into the modern-day version of the “Dark Ages.”

“We’ve had that conversation,” Shank admits. “For three and a half years to put this program through a whole schedule. It’s unbelievable the odds that this happened this way. I try not to get wrapped around the axle on that one. We just need to keep everyone going forward. We’ve done everything we could do for our health and plan and have to get back at it. We are in reasonable shape. There are other teams that are worse off than we are, so we have to be thankful we’re in as good a shape as we are.

“I got a little bit lucky two or three years ago when my wife and I decided to sell a chunk of the business to Jim Meyer. He makes us better. I’ve been in this for 26 years. We’ve lasted through 9/11 and through 2008-2009 on our own. I’m glad I had Jim to prepare for this one. I think that our little business survives. We have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C and let’s get onto it.

“Jim does not pump money into this business every month. This business pumps money into this business every month.”

Shank is operating on wise business sense, a smart plan, faith in the almighty and faith in Penske’s leadership.

“Roger Penske has great vision,” Shank said. “I’ve had four team owner conference calls since this first started and I’m always feeling better when I get off the phone. Even if it is just ideas of what he wants, that gives me hope. When I get off the phone, I’m pumped up. I want to do what my share is. Roger is a great communicator and I’m learning that quickly.

“We’re in good shape. Now listen, I’ve had some bad days, but right now it feels like it is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, that puts us on the right track.”

Just six weeks after that meeting in a St. Petersburg hotel lobby, Shank’s daily routine has changed. Instead of heading to his office at the team’s race shop, he does his work like millions of others in his home.

“I get up and I work out,” Shank said. “I’ve never been stronger in my life. I have a home gym. Then, I get on the phone and start planning. The first two weeks was all economics. It was financial modeling that I came up with Jim and I looked at it and figured out how to get through this. The first two weeks was Plans A, B and C and 2021.

“Once that settled, it’s staying super organized with my guys. Weekly engineering. Management calls. Staff calls and working with the plans on how to safely work at the shop and then phase more people in.

“The cars have not been touched. They are on jack stands. The truck drivers come in and start up the rigs and generators and makes sure everything runs, then they leave.

“That’s it.”

All Shank can do in the meantime is plan and hope.

“If we can just hold on, we’ll be all right,” Shank said. “If we can just hold on.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.

Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”

Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”

After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”

Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”

Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”

Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”

In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”