The impressive progression of Meyer Shank Racing took another monumental step Tuesday when three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was confirmed to drive the second car of the Ohio-based team.
MSR, which traces its roots to helping Sam Hornish Jr. earn Rookie of the Year honors in Formula Atlantic in 1999, will field Castroneves in six races in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, including the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The 45-year-old Brazilian driver will seek his record-tying fourth victory in the iconic race driving the No. 06 Honda with sponsorship yet to be announced.
MSR has made big strides annually since joining INDYCAR for the 2017 Indianapolis 500. That single race led to six races in 2018, 10 races in 2019 and a full season of competition in 2020. Driver Jack Harvey finished 15th in the 2020 standings, but he was only three points from 12th and frequently showed that he is a strong candidate to be INDYCAR’s next first-time race winner. His average starting position this year in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda was 8.8, fifth highest in the series – higher than even series champion Scott Dixon -- and he posted six top-10 finishes.
The addition of Castroneves follows MSR’s announcement last month that Liberty Media became a minority equity investor of the organization owned by former driver Michael Shank and Jim Meyer. The team also recently broke ground on a new race shop to house its INDYCAR and sports car teams, and it will continue its year-old technical alliance with Andretti Autosport.
Shank expects Castroneves to be a terrific fit for the team that is climbing fast in the ranks of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“I think there are so many reasons why Helio is the right guy for us, but I will lead with the passion (he) has is as strong as any 20-year-old out there right now,” Shank said. “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 … and when we look at Helio’s numbers from 2016 and 2017 (his last years as a full-time INDYCAR driver), he’s in the top four of all categories.
“We saw a driver who was driving at a level who can compete with anybody. And lastly, what can Helio bring to help Jack Harvey? We’ve built our program around Jack, and we’re ready to expand it now. We believe Helio is the right guy for us.”
All-time in INDYCAR, Castroneves ranks 12th in race wins with 30, is fourth in poles with 50 and is fourth in starts with 351. His status as one of the sport’s legends is secure, but he made it clear he is hungry for more success, and he believes MSR is the place to achieve it.
“It’s a great opportunity to come back and build something unique,” Castroneves said. “Mike and Jim, they’re able to build something really spectacular, and I felt this would (go) a long way, and that’s the goal. Not only that, it’s coming back to the Indy 500, which, as obviously everybody knows, we’re searching for that No. 4. It would be awesome to do it with Mike and Jim and everyone at Meyer Shank Racing.”
Shank vowed to give Castroneves every opportunity to win the “500.”
“For how much I dreamed about the ‘500’ and just the thought that we could be a part of Helio getting a fourth just puts me over the moon, and I know it does to Jim, too,” Shank said. “So, what’s that mean? It means I’m throwing everything we can at his car, OK? There will be no budget (limit). If it needs what it needs to be the fastest machine we can make for him, specifically for that race, we’re going to do lots of work to make sure that car is as good as anything out there.”
Castroneves’ six races with MSR next season will begin with the Honda Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park on April 11. He then will compete in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 18 before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the “500” on May 30 and the road race at IMS on Aug. 14. His final two races will be the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway on Sept. 12 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 19.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Castroneves, a four-time season runner-up in INDYCAR. “We have a great opportunity here, and I don’t see anything to stop us from having great results and winning races.
“Everyone is very excited, and we’ve got to carry this momentum and translate that to the race cars, and Jack’s (car), as well. He’s already been with the team. It will be great to have the synergy together so that we can work together and not only (have) one car but both cars up there.”
Shank said Castroneves will be able to test alongside Harvey in preparation for the races.
“There’s no reason we can’t finish in the top five of any of these races, none of them, zero,” he said. “We look for looking forward to trying to get that, and I just feel lucky that we got him.”