INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Shank Racing has been eyeing growth for the last year or so on the NTT IndyCar Series side. But, Shank didn’t want to do so by also taking a step back as well. See, Shank has built his Indy Car program steadily over the years. He didn’t want to jump right in and struggle. So, the Ohio native has shown just how brilliant of a business mind that he is in this upward trajectory.
Shank, first got involved in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 with Jack Harvey. He did so with a partnership with Andretti Autosport. It was the only race that they’d do that season with goals of expanding for 2018.
They’d do just that. Shank and Harvey paired with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for six events that year including a 16th place finish in the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Still, they wanted more and were sticking to the plan. They did 10 races in 2019 with a similar venture with SPM. The highlight being a podium in the INDYCAR Grand Prix during the Month of May.
But, with SPM merging with McLaren for the 2020 season and switching to Chevrolet power, Shank couldn’t do so. He had ties with Acura in sports cars and had to remain with Honda. That led him back to Andretti for another partnership. This time, they were going full time.
Harvey and MSR ran all 14 races for the 2020 campaign. They finished 15th in the final standings on the heels of six top 10 finishes. They had four in 10 races in 2019.
Their eyes were now on expansion. How do they grow without taking away from Harvey and his No. 60 Honda?
Well, they figured it out.
MSR purchased DragonSpeed’s equipment and decided to start the second car off slow. The No. 06 Honda will run six races in 2021. The next box was to get a veteran driver to pair with Harvey. In came Helio Castroneves.
All the boxes are now checked.
From one race, to six races to 10 races to full time to a second part time car, this was all part of the plan and vision by one Michael Shank. Brilliant.
“It’s very important,” Shank said of the plan. “This is part of the grand plan that Jim and I when we sat down three years ago said that we want to do. We want to do it correctly, like we’ve said all along here.
“You know, we’re going to do two INDYCARs and one prototype car this year. This is exactly the size of business that Jim and I want to be. Jim can speak for himself here. We have plenty of work. We’re building a new shop. We have 45 people working for us now, which is not a little team anymore.
“Just so many positive things that have happened since Jim and I came together. I don’t even know what to say. But this is just a natural evolution.
“Jim and I like to sit and have a beer at the end of each day at the 500 in front of our motor homes, and to have two opportunities to sit and have a beer like that, that’s just perfect for me.”
In terms as to why Castroneves, Shank said it is simple – the passion and skillset is as good now as it always has been for him and he’s as valuable as anyone that you can get on the free agent market.
“I think there’s so many reasons why Helio is the right guy for us, but I will lead with the passion,” Shank said in announcing the deal on a zoom call on Tuesday. “There’s two things I want to say because this will be a question. I think the passion Helio has is as strong as any 20-year-old out there right now. I think the knowledge he has is times four of anybody out there. And I have to be honest with you, we have metrics that we look at from all the drivers that Bob Perona, our driver coach, has put together, and when we look at Helio’s numbers from 2016 and 2017, he’s in the top four of all categories when the switch happened over at Team Penske for him.
“Of course we’re not part of that at all, but what I’m saying is we saw a guy that was still driving at a level that can compete with anybody.
“Lastly, what can Helio bring to help Jack Harvey, and we’ve built our program around Jack, and we’re ready to expand it now, and we believe and we hope that Helio is the right guy for us.”
He’s not wrong. When Helio stepped away from full time in 2017, he was still at or near the top of all major statistics. He’s won 30 times in his career – one shy of 10th all time. He’s scored 50 poles, fourth all-time. His 41 runner-ups are third most ever. His 93 podiums are six best. His 131 top fives are fourth best too. There’s still quite a bit left in the tank he feels too.
Castroneves, says that the passion for him never wavered. He always wanted to come back.
“Well, you know, I have to say, I have to thank obviously Team Penske to put me in the sports car program because I feel that it was a great experience, and I feel much better as a driver today than actually I was three years ago,” Castroneves said as to why come back now.
“But you know, even though I was in the sports car program, INDYCAR has always been part of my life. I enjoy it very much. I love the sport. I grew up in open wheel. Basically as soon as the Acura program was terminated, I said, you know what, let’s go back. Let’s go back because I feel that I have unfinished business in the INDYCAR world. And here we go.
“Having this program, six races, it’s a great opportunity to come back and build something unique. Again, Mike and Jim, they are able to build something really spectacular, and I felt this could be a long way, and hopefully that’s the goal.
“And again, not only that, but it’s coming back to the Indy 500, which obviously everybody knows we’re really searching for that number four. Couldn’t do it anymore with Team Penske; it could be awesome to do it with Mike and Jim and everyone at Shank Racing.”
With ovals being available on the 48 car with the split seat with Jimmie Johnson at Chip Ganassi Racing, would Castroneves be willing to take the ride at Texas and the World Wide Technology Raceway? That would get him to nine races in 2021.
“It would be great,” said Castroneves. “It would be great to be back with everyone, with Tony, with Scott, with my former teammates from Penske, and especially with Jack. As I said, Jack has been showing an incredible amount of speed, and he’s so close so many times. I’m really looking forward to working with him and trying to build this relationship, new group, new group of guys, new group of people, new friends. I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Castroneves says that the sky’s the limit with MSR.
“We have a great opportunity here,” he continued. “I don’t see anything to stop us from having great results and winning races. I feel that you saw Mike mention about it when we spoke, as well, the commitment, not only from him, from his group, as well. Everyone is really excited, and we’ve got to carry this momentum, and just, you know, translate that to the race cars.
“And Jack, as well, he has been there. He has already been with the team. It would be great to have this synergy together so that we can work together so that not only one car but both cars will be up there. Again, it’s limited races, yes, but it’s a great opportunity, and one that I’m really looking forward to.”
In terms of his relationship with Penske and how this deal even started, Castroneves says that they still own a dealership together and that Shank went to Penske and Tim Cindric to ask about seeking out Castroneves before they even talked to Helio. Castroneves said that they gave Shank his blessing to pursue him and felt like it would be a great opportunity for both.
So, a call to Helio then happened from Shank.
“Mike called me I think it was the first race in Petit, the short one,” Castroneves said. “We spoke about it, and it started growing. He didn’t — for sure wasn’t ready yet, and we kept just discussing and talking, and here we are.
“It wasn’t right away, but Mike and Jim worked really hard for this opportunity to happen, and I’m ecstatic. I’m ecstatic because I thought, okay, it’s not going to happen, and all of a sudden when things started growing, I was actually getting more excited about it. Not only myself but Roger Penske is one of the guys that I asked for guidance, and he is the one, as well, that asked me, and here we are.”
This ride is all part of a future plan too. They want to do 10 races next year with the hopes of a full time venture for 2023. Castroneves, is part of those plans so long as he wants to be.
“We have a roadmap that we’re going to stick to that we use with Jack, and depending on what we put together for partners, it could be heightened or quickened, so we did six this year,” Shank said on the second car. “We want to push that to at least 10 the year after, maybe the full season. We’ll do with what the economics dictate and the partnerships dictate.
“We want to build it. If Helio is the guy, we both agree, Helio and us agree, we’ll go forward with Helio if he wants to. We’ve all been in this a long time, and I want to see how this year goes. It takes a little bit to get the gel to happen. But you know what I like about this is I’ve got — when you decide are you going to do a young or new guy or are you going to do a veteran guy, I just like hungry guys. I like hungry. I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care how old. Do the job. I’ve got a hungry guy that I know can do the job and wants to get a fourth Indy 500. So what’s the choice? He’s sitting there on the TV with us. So I’m really pleased to have him.”