This morning we continue with yet another team recap from the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most recent season. In 2018, this team doubled their race participation from 2017 and continued a working relationship with an established team in the paddock. Sticking with the same driver from last year, the group was able to build on and improve results at a couple of tracks while making a debut at four others.
Our next team in review is Meyer Shank Racing.
While still a part-time effort, MSR looks to increase its participation once again in 2019. Their steady dose of races added over the last two years has gradually exposed them to the weekly grind of IndyCar racing.
Next season we look forward to seeing the black and pink Honda on the grid for a few more races, but before that, let’s take a look back at 2018.
Slow and Steady
While Michael Shank dipped his toe in the IndyCar waters back in 2012, his purchase of a Dallara DW-12 that year is where the progress ended. Intending to run Lotus engines with A.J. Allmendinger in the car, the plan slowly fell apart and Shank sold the car to Sam Schmidt in 2013.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2017 that Shank resurfaced with plans to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500, this time in a partnership with Michael Andretti’s powerhouse fleet of drivers.
The duo assigned Jack Harvey to pilot a uniquely-colored No. 50 Honda, and after five years of trials and tribulations, Michael Shank made his IndyCar Series debut when the car qualified 27th.
Competing in their first Indy 500, Harvey and Shank would make it 65 laps into the event before being swept up in the aftermath of Conor Daly’s crash in Turn 3. The No. 50 SiriusXM/Gap Guard Honda would finish 31st and it would be four months before a Shank-partnered car would see the grid again.
Upon returning, Shank would re-ignite a relationship with Sam Schmidt that started with that Dallara DW-12 transaction back in 2013. The two agreed to share services for the final two races of 2017, with Harvey back in the car at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.
Running on road courses for the first time, Harvey notched a 14th place run at The Glen (finishing on the lead lap) and finished 18th in the season finale at Sonoma (one lap down). At this point, Shank had been bitten by the Indy bug and was ready for more in 2018.
Through the offseason, the team further strengthened their partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The No. 60 Honda – with sponsorship backing from AutoNation and returning partner SiriusXM – would serve as a de-facto third SPM car for six events in 2018.
The partnership would be beneficial for both sides as Shank continued to prepare for a full-time effort and Schmidt Peterson had an extra car to sort through data with.
The No. 60 team arrived at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as one of 24 cars in the field. Trudging through a rain-spattered qualifying session, Harvey would qualify 19th for the 110-lap contest.
Unfortunately, on lap 41 a tire issue would send Harvey careening towards a retaining wall before the final hairpin which would end his day prematurely. The team would finish 23rd to start the season.
When the team returned to the track at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in mid-April, Michael Shank Racing had been re-branded as Meyer Shank Racing with the newly-added Jim Meyer joining the ownership fray.
Riding a bit of momentum the team would secure its best qualifying effort in a short four-race history by gridding 17th.
Rising to the occasion, Harvey turned in an admirable performance and wrestled his chrome-clad Honda to a 12th place finish in one of IndyCar racing’s most prestigious events. It was the best finish on the record for MSR to date, and would be the team’s highest result in 2018.
After skipping events at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Meyer-Shank was back in action for their second crack at the Indianapolis 500.
As part of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports umbrella, the unit struggled mightily with qualifying pace throughout the week of practice that led into Bump Day. On the first day of qualifying, Harvey was 27th-quickest to safely make the field while he watched fellow SPM-comrade James Hinchcliffe get bumped from the 33-car grid.
For pole day the qualifying struggles resumed as Harvey could only muster a four-lap average quicker than two other drivers (Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly) to qualify 31st. Most importantly, though, they had made the field and were confident the race pace was better than the qualifying trim.
Looking at the team’s improvement over 200 grueling laps on race day, it seems they were right.
On a race day where many veteran Indy 500 starters were caught out by blistering-hot conditions and low-downforce aero kits, Harvey successfully maneuvered each lap of the race to keep his No. 60 Honda clean en route to a 16th place finish.
The team ran as high as 2nd on lap 196 while they rolled the dice on fuel, eventually ducking into the pits the same time that race leader Stefan Wilson ended his gamble on gas. Despite dropping 14 spots in four laps to end the race, Harvey made no qualms about being on the short end of the late-race shot in the dark.
“It’s the Indy 500, the biggest one of the year, so the team didn’t have to apologize to me for going for it!” said an ecstatic Harvey on pit lane. “We nearly made the strategy work, but there were a few bits where we just couldn’t hit the numbers. We ran up to the front at the end and went three-wide into Turn 1 on the last restart. I tried to drive the best race I could and we finished 16th, which is a pretty good day considering where we started.”
While the 16th place result was a clear improvement from the team’s finish of 31st in 2017, Harvey noted that the strides made by MSR in that one year run deeper than just the results.
“Looking at where we were last year and where we are today, it’s a night and day difference,” said the British driver. “Thank you to AutoNation and SiriusXM and all of the supporters and sponsors that we have and to Michael (Shank) for believing in me. This is a good program that’s getting off the ground and this is good momentum to keep going.”
The series would miss Meyer Shank Racing through the summer months as the team didn’t make another appearance until July at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In a homecoming race for Michael Shank, the team would qualify and finish 20th (one lap down) in a challenging return to the track.
The previously-mentioned momentum would pick up a bit, though, in September when the MSR-SPM entry competed in each of the final two races in 2018.
In IndyCar racing’s return to Portland International Raceway, Harvey and MSR recorded their career-best qualifying effort when Jack placed the No. 60 machine 13th out of 25 cars in the field – narrowly missing out on the second round of qualifying. The race went relatively well, with Harvey avoiding a multi-car lap one incident to finish on the lead lap in 16th.
Returning to Sonoma Raceway to close out the season, MSR was able to improve on their 2017 result at the Northern California track just as they did with their 2017 Indy 500 run.
With 25 cars in attendance, Harvey turned in a 16th place qualifying run (up from 19th in 2017) and a finish of 17th (up from 18th in 2017). When the dust had settled, MSR’s gradual increase in participation offered a gradual improvement in results.
Comparing the statistical progress, the team went from completing 60.6% of their laps in 2017 to a percentage of 89.2% laps completed in 2018 – and that was after increasing the lap total from a possible 345 laps to 675 laps in 2018.
Additionally, the average starting spot improved from 21.3 in year one to 19.3 in year two while the finishing position improved from 21.0 in 2017 to 17.3 this season. So while the numbers bear improvement, it is again the behind-the-scenes progress that will continue to elevate MSR in 2019 and beyond.
“Overall I think that we had a lot of great moments in the year, but I don’t think we ever got the result that we potential did have or that the team deserved,” Harvey would go on to say following the Grand Prix of Sonoma.
“Even though today clearly wasn’t my best day, if you look at the year, as a whole, I really have to thank everyone from Meyer Shank Racing and SPM. And without AutoNation and SiriusXM, neither of us would be able to get to be here, so really the biggest thanks go to them.
“I’m optimistic and hopeful that next year we will do more races and have more opportunities to get a better result.”
If all goes well, Michael Shank and company hope to see 10 or more events in the 2019 season. With budding car counts a positive talking point in IndyCar racing recently, MSR is part of that growing net of teams that could build IndyCar fields of the future.
Here’s to all the best for Meyer Shank Racing in 2019 and job well done on 2018.
Header image by Stephen King/INDYCAR.