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Meyer Shank Racing’s Meteoric Rise to the Top of IndyCar

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(Photo Credit: Chris Owens / IMS Photo / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Meyer Shank Racing have long been known for their exploits in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which team co-owner Michael Shank joined in 2004 when it was known as the Rolex Sports Car Series, winning multiple races in both the Daytona Prototype and GT Daytona disciplines. Now they are becoming one of the hottest up and coming teams within America’s top open-wheel racing series, the NTT IndyCar Series, cementing their status with their first series win at the 2021 Indianapolis 500.

After an attempt to create a full-time team fell through in 2012, and a failed entry into the 2013 Indianapolis 500, MSR finally put together an entry for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with Andretti Autosport for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 forming Michael Shank Racing w/ Andretti Autosport, the birth of the team we know today. Four years later, the team is now entering their second full year of competition and through it all has been one man behind the wheel: Twenty-eight-year-old United Kingdom native Jack Harvey.

Originally, Harvey was supposed to have an entry with Andretti for the 2017 Indy 500, but a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion by the name of Fernando Alonso was announced in what was to be Harvey’s seat. Luckily, he was informed that he would still have a ride for the event with Shank.

“I didn’t know Michael at that point but I had always respected him enormously for his sports car adventures and the success they had these so I knew Michael was a winner,” Harvey said.

“And by the time I had someone text me his number he called me and just said ‘Look, I know this isn’t exactly what you signed up for but you’re going to get the team’s best effort,’ and I felt like we did.”

This was also a shake-up for Shank, who planned on running with Stefan Wilson, but Harvey’s deal was completed beforehand, and was given the seat. Harvey started on the outside of row nine in the event and finished thirty-first after hitting the wall trying to avoid a wrecking Conor Daly on lap sixty-seven, no fault of the team or crew.

“The weekend after the 500,” Harvey continued, “we went to the Westin in downtown Detroit and just chatted to [Shank] about how we could do something again, but in a bigger way.”

Harvey at the 2017 Indianapolis 500. (Photo Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar)

That plan came to fruition the next season, but in the meantime Harvey raced the last two events of 2017 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, known today as Arrow McLaren SP, at Watkins Glen and Sonoma as the replacement for Sebastian Saavedra, who himself was the backup for Michael Aleshin, finishing fourteenth and eighteenth respectively.

In 2018, the team partnered with Schmidt again to form Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, running six races instead of just the Indy 500. On top of running Indy once more, the team added St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma to the calendar.

These tracks were hand-picked by Shank and were important to the team’s partners.

“It worked out exactly like we had hoped,” Shank said.

After a twenty-third place finish at St. Pete, the team re-branded as Meyer Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, acknowledging Jim Meyer, former CEO of Sirius XM Radio, as a co-owner. Meyer had been a part of the operation behind the scenes since April of 2017, originally joining as an independent partner of Harvey’s Indy 500 entry, but now had his name on the team.

“Jim and I hit it off really fast,” Shank said.

“He called me in June or July after that 500 [2017] and said ‘let’s talk, what are you and your wife doing up there, what’s your future, here’s what I’m doing, where are you at?’”

This spawned a lifelong partnership that Shank will treasure forever.

“It’s just incredible how lucky my wife and I got with Jim, I don’t even know where to begin.” he said.

“I’ll write a book about Jim someday.”

The team’s first race under the new name was also their best finish of the season, a twelfth place effort at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, a sign of things to come as they continued to expand to ten races in 2019. In May, the team put together Harvey’s career best finish with a third place qualifying effort and race finish in the rain-soaked IndyCar Grand Prix, one of four top-ten finishes for the team that season.

Harvey after his career-best third place finish at the 2019 IndyCar Grand Prix. (Photo Credit: Matt Fraver / Courtesy of IndyCar)

In November of that year, the team announced that in 2020 they would become full-time participants in IndyCar, a feat achieved in only three years. So what was the secret?

“Honesty, clarity, and total transparency as to where we’re at nearly all the time.” Harvey said.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a small part of the team as it builds, and I really enjoy that Michael and Jim value my opinion… It’s nice to feel included and valued.”

It also took frugality to keep the team on a tight budget and make it work year by year, with Shank stating that the team “only did what we had the money for.” Three years into the plan, they were right on schedule to move full-time.

“I like to say ‘we do what we say we’re gonna do,’ and so do our partners,” Shank continued. “They stuck with us and off we went.”

Through a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team now independently known as Meyer Shank Racing notched six top-ten finishes in the shortened fourteen-race season, with a fifteenth place points finish. Their best finish of the season came in the second race of the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where the team finished sixth.

“I think [the team] have navigated those waves incredibly well,” Harvey said.

“I feel like they’ve come out the other side in a really strong position, and probably have gained even more respect than when we went into COVID.

“I know COVID was an incredibly difficult year, for other reasons than just on-track performances, but people have to remember that was still the most racing that we had done in one season. Therefore, it was still a positive feeling going to the track every weekend.

“For some people it was less races and less testing, but for us that was the most we ever had the opportunity to do, and I think the team handled all the difficulties that came throughout last year with an enormous amount of grace and integrity.”

After that first full season, the team has learned just what it takes to be successful in the sport, and sometimes that margin is thinner than a sheet of paper.

“You cannot believe the details that matter in IndyCar compared to any other championship we’ve won before. It’s just incredible,” Shank emphasized.

“If you’re on the bad side of one tenth of a second, you’re five positions back. And in these races if you don’t qualify well, you won’t have track position to begin with, then you’re in deep sh*t.

“Running IndyCar full-time is the hardest thing to do on the planet, in my opinion.”

Harvey echoed the same sentiment.

“I think right now, IndyCar is all about marginal gains,” he elaborated.

“I don’t think there’s one area we can improve by five percent, but maybe there’s five areas we can improve by one percent, and I think that’s gonna be how we take the next step.”

As of the time of writing, Harvey has two top ten finishes in six races, running into poor luck with a wheel bearing issue in the Xpel 375 and stalling on pit road at the GMR Grand Prix followed by a flat right rear tire. In both of those races however, Harvey was running in the top five, and the team as a whole sat in the top-ten in points standings for the majority of the season so far.

They have made their presence felt as a team quickly rising through the ranks, and are nowhere near done yet. In 2020, Liberty Media, a group who also own Formula 1, invested in the team, allowing for a second car to be run at six races in the 2021 season. MSR have enlisted the help of four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves to pilot the car and impart his wisdom onto Harvey.

In the process, Castroneves won his fourth Indy 500, joining Al Unser Sr., A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears as the only drivers to win four Indy 500s. Even more impressively, Shank bought the chassis for Castroneves’ car from DragonSpeed in October of 2020, taking one of the slowest cars from last year’s event to win the fastest Indy 500 in history. In only their fifth attempt at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, the team’s dream came true as they got to drink the milk Victory Lane.

Mike Shank (right) celebrates his team’s first Indy 500 victory with Helio Castroneves (left). (Photo Credit: Matt Fraver / Courtesy of IndyCar)

In such a short time with the team, not only has Castroneves brought the team their first taste of victory, but had a tremendous impact on Harvey.

“Helio’s been really great so far to be teammates with, to be able to talk to about the car, or whatever really,” Harvey said.

“He has so much experience and knowledge, and everyone knows that, but the way that he shares information and the way he describes information, you can see why he’s so successful and why he’s been so successful.

“Naturally, I just want to learn as much as I can from a driver of Helio’s caliber, and it’s nice when you meet someone who is as talented as they are nice.

“I think together with me, Helio and Meyer Shank Racing, we can all achieve some really great things.”

Shank also stated that the team hopes to expand this second car to a full-time program “at, and only at, the correct time. Just like everything else we’ve done.”

Now with their first win in the history books, the team is striving to be a consistent threat at the front of the pack, fighting to keep up with top teams like Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

Harvey on-track at the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens / IMS Photo / Courtesy of IndyCar)

“We’re getting better literally every time we go on track,” Shank said.

“I don’t think there’s any one area that we’re really struggling in right now, but it is going to be an enormous amount of work to make the small gains because we’re getting to the top of the pyramid,” Harvey added.

“Sometimes at this level it’s not totally obvious what that step looks like, apart from all we can do is keep digging deep, keep trying really hard, and be happy with our weekend but not satisfied until we win.”

These interviews were conducted before the team’s Indianapolis 500 victory.

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Lifelong sports junkie, currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Lead writer for Indycar at The Checkered Flag.
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