Meyer Shank Racing aims for 2nd consecutive Rolex 24 victory
By JENNA FRYER
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Michael Shank bookended last year's sports car season by winning the most prestigious endurance race in North America and then the IMSA championship.
In between, he expanded his IndyCar program and followed a scrupulous plan to build Meyer Shank Racing into an elite motorsports organization.
Now he's set to lead Acura into a new sports car era as IMSA opens its season Saturday with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the twice-round-the-clock endurance race that will debut the first hybrid engines used in North American motorsports. The top GTP class has switched to hybrids this year and Shank is one of two Acura factory teams.
MSR will attempt to defend last year's victory from the pole after Tom Blomqvist's qualifying run - which Shank celebrated as exuberantly as he did last year's IMSA championship. Shank, who has two Rolex 24 wins, and Indy 500 victory and last year's IMSA championship, said the pole-winning run "gives me more joy than I felt in a long time."
"Because what happened in the past just does not matter to me or anyone else that pays us. What matters is now what happens here," Shank said, adding that Honda Performance President David Salters simply told him Shank's job with the Acura "was to go as hard as we can and leave it all out there for qualifying and that's what we did."
The No. 60 is clearly prepared and the lineup of Bloomqvist, Colin Braun and endurance drivers Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud paced four consecutive practice sessions and won the pole. Castroneves, who turns 48 in May, is chasing with MSR both a third consecutive Rolex win as well as a record fifth Indianapolis 500.
Castroneves won his first Rolex in 2021 with Wayne Taylor Racing, Shank's top competition in IMSA because both teams want to be Acura's top factory program. Both would also like to expand to two cars and Acura is currently running two cars total parceled between MSR and Wayne Taylor Racing.
But Shank said the switch to hybrid has forged a strong relationship between the two teams, and, now that Taylor has partnered with Andretti Autosport, Shank believes his own IndyCar alliance with Andretti will benefit.
The entire organizational climb - Shank won his first Rolex 24 in 2012 and his second a decade later - has since picked up strong partners in co-owner Jim Meyer, investor Liberty Media, and strong funding from AutoNation and Sirius. Yet he has still got a complex as the underdog team.
"It's probably my OCD and the problems I have, but I always felt like we were under-looked and not respected," Shank said. "I've always fought for respect and people look at me like I'm crazy. But I'm telling you, there's always an underlying thing with that with me for some reason.
"I went from Michael Shank Racing to Meyer Shank Racing, Liberty Media is a huge part of my life. These guy's at Liberty, they expect us to win and not lose money. And same with Jim Meyer. There's a pressure, a core pressure from the ownership group, and I take it very seriously."
Pagenaud, who just completed his first IndyCar season with MSR, praised his boss' enthusiastic approach. Pagenaud had a disappointing debut season with one podium and was 15th in the standings. Castroneves finished 18th in the standings and led Pagenaud in finishes of seventh and eighth at Indy.
Shank has said the team didn't give Pagenaud what he needed to be successful last season, but made gains before the end of the year. Now Pagenaud believes he's got a top-five season in him this year in IndyCar, and the Rolex lineup is confident it can make it back-to-back 24-hour wins.
"I feel like the team, HPD and Acura have done a really nice job making the car better and better every test that we have had. It's crazy impressive how much more driveable and driver friendly the car is," said Braun, in his first season with MSR. "It's so much about the team and the work and the efforts those guys have put in. This Meyer Shank Racing group has been working really, really hard to make those big gains and I think it shows in our performance."
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Updated January 26, 2023