Michael Shank would like to have seen better results this season from his young Verizon IndyCar Series team. He’s a racer, after all.
But as a team co-owner, Shank also looks with pride at the progress that doesn’t show on the results sheet, and he’s happy with how the team – Meyer Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – performed as a part-time entry in such a competitive series.
“The competition level here is no joke,” Shank said at Portland International Raceway, where his No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM MSR with SPM Honda driven by Jack Harvey finished 16th in the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 2. “The intensity of how hard these guys have to drive these new cars is off the charts. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Harvey and the team are entered in their sixth race this year, the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Shank then heads into the offseason with bigger plans for 2019.
“We’re trying to do 10 races next year,” Shank said. “That’s a nice progression for me and we’re trying to get all our partners together in order to expand that for next year. Nobody is saying we’ve got to do all the races; we’re going to do it when we are ready and can afford it.”
By 2021, maybe a year earlier, Shank hopes to run the entire INDYCAR schedule as a two-car team.
“We have a great opportunity here,” Shank said. “If we’re one car but can do the whole series in 2020, that’s a great goal for us. But eventually we want to have a full-time presence here with two cars.”
While he hoped for consistently high finishes this season, Shank said he didn’t know what to expect this year after running one race with Harvey in 2017, when they finished 31st at the Indianapolis 500 in a collaboration with Andretti Autosport. Harvey’s best 2018 finish heading to Sonoma has been 12th place at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April.
“What I really want is that every time we roll off the trailer, we’re a little bit better in some area or all areas, and I think we can safely say we’ve been able to do that this year,” Shank said. “What we’re getting is a really nice progression. We haven’t gotten the exact result we want yet, but we’re all over it and we’re positioning ourselves to do well. We had a great run at the Indy 500; we were very close to doing something special there.”
Shank, whose sports car teams have endurance victories at Le Mans and Daytona and added another victory on Sunday in the GT Daytona class at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, says Harvey’s drive to second place in the final laps of this year’s Indy 500 was the most exciting thing he has experienced in racing. Harvey qualified 31st, ran well throughout the race and, hoping to squeeze every drop of fuel to the finish as other contenders had to pit, moved into second place after a restart with less than 10 laps remaining. But he needed a yellow flag to make the strategy work. When it never came, he pitted for fuel with four laps to go.
Harvey finished 16th, but it was far from a letdown for Shank. He had dreamed since childhood of racing at Indy. The Ohioan bought a car in 2012 but didn’t enter after he couldn’t secure a competitive engine. To see his car so close to the front with just a few miles to go this year was a dream nearing reality.
“Twenty years ago, there was no way I could have done this. I thought it was impossible,” he said. “In 2012 when I bought an Indy car, we couldn’t make it work and I had to bail. So, to see it all the way through and damn near win the race – you’re one yellow away – it ranks as the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve done some cool stuff – we won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we won the Rolex 24 (at Daytona). But Indy is something I grew up as a kid dreaming about, something my dad and I talked about. And here we are living it.”
And, if plans work out, he’ll be back for years to come with a bigger team running the entire schedule.
“We will go into the offseason asking ourselves, ‘How do we improve our program? How do we upgrade our equipment?’” Shank said. “We want to buy another car and we want to enhance our program with personnel. I’m really happy with my people, but we will add some more full-time people.
“The detail that it takes and the intensity that it takes in this series caught us off. But it helps everything when you ratchet up the intensity like you have to just to be competitive here.”
Practice for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway begins Friday. The opening practice at 2 p.m. ET streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. The second practice at 6 p.m. ET airs live on NBCSN.
Verizon P1 Award qualifying will stream live at 6 p.m. ET Saturday on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with a same-day telecast at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.
Live coverage of the championship-deciding race begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.