Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank endured an eventful 2022 campaign in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and that has had thrashing away in the off-season to make the Ohio-based racing organization stronger next year.
The recently completed season saw the team expand to two full-time teams in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, with Simon Pagenaud joining Helio Castroneves, who led the team to its first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory in 2021.
Shank shared thoughts over various topics with INDYCAR.com’s Joey Barnes.
Question: What has the off-season been like for you?
Shank: On the INDYCAR side, when we reflect on kind of year we had, we really try to identify what our weaknesses were and try to improve them. So, what does that mean? That means in all departments -- equipment, personnel, how we do things – to recognize the things that we fell short on and try to figure out why we did and plan to not do them again. So, it's compiling a lot of data and looking at that closely.
A lot of the engineers look at all kinds of things to figure out, post all the processes, all the stuff and figure out where our shortcomings were and then double down on how to improve it. That's what it has been. Last year was our first year running two cars full-time. This year will be our second, and we are way more prepared to do it this year than last year. I can already tell right now. So, that part is really good. We'll see ultimately what it means, but every single day we work at something on the INDYCAR side to be better than we were in '22.
Question: Speaking of running two full-time entries for the first time, what kind of improvements or deficiencies or anything like that did you notice in the expansion of it?
Shank: Well, it's just so much (and it starts with) we don't get very much track time on race weekends and making sure that we’re absolutely ready to go to deal with a situation, plan A, B, and C. We'll be much more prepared to deal with all that next year. Sometimes you get into a race weekend and it just gets away from you because we're not totally prepared like we would like to be or anything like that. Having done it now once, we kind of know where the alligators are, right? At least some of them. And, we can try to fight against those before we even get to them this time. Of course, we're never going to fix it all, but I think as long as I'm trying and the group is trying to improve on what we had I'm happy, because we all agree we can do better. We need to figure out how do we consistently be in that top five or eight every weekend. Certainly, that is our target.
Question: Between the IMSA project and the INDYCAR part of things, what does a day look like for Mike Shank?
Shank: For me, it's a lot of organizing and working with Tim Meyer (son of co-owner Jim Meyer) on the commercial side and trying to set up future deals and partners. Also, I work a lot with our employees, our staff, to make sure everybody's happy and getting what they need and potentially adding people if we need it. I do all of the budgeting, so I work with all my series managers; that we're staying in line financially as much as we can because we don't do this for fun and we don't do this to lose money. So, we have to figure out a way to be successful and not lose money, which is a tricky wicked here, and I'm proud to say we don't lose money in racing. But it's not easy. There's a lot of compromise, especially when the economies get tight like they're headed right now. Don't let anyone fool you, we're coming to a belt tightening very soon. It becomes really important that I'm pre-planning as much as we can, Jim Meyer and myself, on this stuff.
Question: Looking toward 2023, is there any one specific area that you feel MSR needs to shore up; whether it's a specific track, something within the car itself or the technical side?
Shank: Our No. 1 priority is to try to win the Indianapolis 500 every year. And when we don't do that, like in '22, we did fairly well there actually with both cars, especially given where we're qualified. But we need to shore up at the Indy 500, whatever that takes. We put a lot of effort into that. It really dictates a lot of what we do commercially. So, our No. 1 concern right now is getting the Indy 500 (preparation) tightened up so it’s more like we ran in 2021. No. 2 is, when we look back on the (other) races we struggled on short ovals, and we struggled on some natural road courses. Where are we weak?
Why are we weak there? We’ve analyzed that. So, that would be my No. 2 priority, actually. These are the areas we have low-hanging fruit that we can be better at. We tend to focus on them. Also, updating our equipment, making our pit box more efficient, making life a little easier for the (staff), especially in the second and third quarter of the year. Man, it is painful. The schedule is really, really tough. I do spend a lot of time when I look at those two tough quarters. Adam Rovazzini, who is my competition director, he's the No. 1 guy on our INDYCAR side, like how do we make life better for our folks? What can we do for these two quarters that will help their lives? Does it cost money? Is it just simply organizing? What do we have to do? We spend a lot of time talking about that.
Question: With Simon Pagenaud joining the team last off-season, we all know how he is one of the best in the business. That said, what was maybe something that he surprised you with that you didn’t realize you were getting with his coming over from Team Penske?
Shank: Well, the first thing is just a mile’s worth of experience. He has been through the Penske system; he knows how they approach things. On top of that, though, Simon is extremely intelligent and thinks through everything extremely well at an extreme level. He analyzes everything and it's why he is a good development driver because he feels things a lot of people don't feel. Not only does he help us on the INDYCAR side, but he helps us on the sports car side developing our new hybrid Acura. He is exceptionally gifted in the brain and can multitask. He is very regimented and very committed to doing everything he can as a driver to bring it out.
Certainly, we had some great runs last year with him, and we had tough runs with him last year. We had everything in between, and we're certainly hoping that we can tighten the whole thing up a little bit because the potential was definitely there. You have to dig a little for it, but you could see it if you were sitting where I sit where the potential was to have some really, really good results and just little things happened that kept us from that. So, what do we have to do to realize that potential for Simon in our group with him, including even me because I'm on Simon's car. Is there a better person than me to be on that car talking to him and working with Garrett (Mothersead), our engineer on strategy? We've looked at everything. I'm looking forward to this year with him. I really am. We're working now on the sports car project together, so we never really stopped. There's no break.
As far as his ability, he is really good at fuel saving. That really caught me out how good he is at that. There is little detail stuff like that that really kind of surprised me.