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Meyer Shank Racing Is Now The Big Team That Did

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2021

Helio Castroneves’ victory in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 has turned Meyer Shank Racing into a player. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

INDIANAPOLIS – Meyer Shank Racing’s co-owners raised eyebrows and the team’s NTT IndyCar Series profile when they hired free-agent Helio Castroneves seven months ago to compete in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500.

On cue, Helio delivered an inspired drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday resulting in a record-tying fourth victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” As a certified Indy 500 immortal, the 46-year-old Castroneves now has the collateral to make his case for a fulltime return to the series in 2022, and perhaps beyond. 

Meanwhile, the impact of the corresponding “bounce” for MSR from inside the paddock and in corporate America’s boardrooms figures to be life-changing for Mike Shank and Jim Meyer. MSR is based in Pataskala, Ohio (approximate population 16,000) located 19 miles east of Columbus. 

“Number one, I kind of got a little bit tired of reading we’re ‘The little team that could.’ We’ve never believed that,” said Meyer, an Indianapolis resident who joined Shank as co-owner in April 2017 while serving as CEO of SiriusXM. “We had a plan. We knew we were going to start very slowly. Mike was incredibly disciplined. I wanted to go faster earlier. He explained to me how fast we could waste our money if we weren’t careful.

“We believe every day we can compete with anybody out here _ anybody out here.”

Helio Castroneves got to kiss the bricks for a fourth time.

Indeed, Castroneves and MSR outperformed race runnerup Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing and 2019 Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske _ Helio’s former employer and winner of a record 18 Indy 500s _ en route to its first series win in the world’s biggest auto race.

“It’s important to me that we’re respected and that the people understand we’re here to win,” said Shank, himself a former open-wheel driver. “I mean, it’s a level…for me it’s about respect. I fight for it. I have to prove it all the time. I’m a freshman almost every time. He’s (Meyer) always yelling at me to relax. I think it’s bullshit. I feel like we have to prove ourselves all the time. This will change everything.”

Start with the winner’s purse. Castroneves earned $1,828,305 _ up 33 percent over last year’s payout, according to figures released Monday night. The 105th Indy 500 had a total purse of $8,854,565 divided among the 33-car field, up 18 percent from last year’s $7,502,500. The 2020 Indy 500 was held Aug. 23 without fans due to COVID-19 pandemic-related health concerns.

Sunday’s race drew an announced “sellout” crowd of 135,000, making it the biggest sporting event since the onset of the pandemic in the USA in March 2020. That crowd count represented 40 percent of seating capacity at IMS.

The 2020 Indy 500 purse was $7,502,500, slightly more than half of the originally announced record of $15-million. The amount was slashed because new track owner Roger Penske lost millions due to the race being run without fans. Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing earned a $1,370,500 winner’s check in 2020 that was less than his first victory in 2017.

According to the Indianapolis Star, 2020 was the smallest Indy 500 race purse since 1991 and the lowest winner’s earnings since 2003.

MSR, now in its third decade of competition, has transferred its successful endurance sports car racing methodology to INDYCAR. Meyer and Shank have established a technical alliance with Andretti Autosport and CEO/former open-wheel star Michael Andretti as well as Honda Performance Development.

“When we won the Rolex 24 in Daytona in 2012, it was a big step for us,” Shank said. “It really put us on this path to where we’re at today. This is times four, times five. It’s a respect thing that I think we deserve. Jim and I fought hard for this. I’m just overwhelmed with the thoughts. It’s just hitting me now really that we’ve won here.

“I’m just so happy to be a part of history. What my opinion is with Helio and the four wins, that’s one little nugget that I said, ‘Can you imagine if he could win No. 4 with us? What would that mean to us? Commercially, just respect?’ Jim agreed, ‘Let’s get Helio.’ That’s what he did. It just was perfect.

“I’m hoping, listen, that this is the start of just a continued solid program. I’ve told Jim, I don’t want to have a six-car team. I want to do two at some point at a high level and I’m good, take care of our sponsors and partners really well. I hope this result lands that.

“Twenty years ago, I was over working on Formula Fords and Sports 2000 at IRP. That’s how I made my living, a thousand bucks at a time. To get here today _there’s other guys and girls like me that are doing it now, prepping Formula 2000 cars, club racing, Miata. Maybe they have aspirations. You’re looking at dead-ass proof. That’s America. Just really proud.”

Castroneves sized-up Palou over the final 19 laps around the famed 2.5-mile oval before completing a daring, winning pass on the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 199 of the scheduled 200. That move allowed Castroneves to join A.J. Foyt Jr. (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991) as the event’s only four-time champions.

Castroneves _ who previously won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009 with Team Penske _ gave MSR its first series victory in his first start. At 46 years, 20 days old, the popular Brazilian is the fourth-oldest winner in Indy 500 history behind Big Al (47, 1987), the late Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).

Additionally, this was the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history with an average speed of 190.690 mph. The previous record of 187.433 mph was set in 2013 by Tony Kanaan, also of Brazil.

Sunday’s start was the first of Helio’s six-race deal with MSR to wheel the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for the 2021 season. On Thursday, Castroneves insisted he was not done with INDYCAR after a three-year stint in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Castroneves, co-champion with Ricky Taylor of IMSA’s 2020 Daytona Prototype International class, made it clear he is looking to return to the NTT IndyCar Series fulltime.

“I said it. If I said it, I meant it. I dream big. I dream big,” said Castroneves, who spent the Month of May working with MSR fulltime driver Jack Harvey of Great Britain. “This is a dedication of hard work, getting the right people. But I can’t do it on my own. I have to give credit to Mike and Jim. Mike especially to putting the people together. 

“I have to give the credit for the Andretti Autosport because they received me with the arms wide open. They have their own system. I learned from their own system. With that I gained, like, five other teammates, five or six other teammates.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without those peoples. I’m so grateful for that.”

Shank immediately took care of one issue pertaining to the Month of May in 2022. “By the way, I believe Helio deserves to go for a fifth Indianapolis win,” Shank said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen for him.”

Castroneves’ margin of victory over Spaniard Palou, driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, was 0.4928-seconds. Palou’s payout was $649,305. Frenchman Pagenaud completed the podium in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet and earned $403,305.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, of New Zealand, was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year after his 20th-place finish in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. The Indy 500 was the third oval start for McLaughlin, the three-time/reigning Australian Supercars Series champion. McLaughlin earned $151,305.

Castroneves, who started eighth in the 33-car field, led 20 laps in a race slowed only twice by cautions for a total of 18 laps, both race-record lows.

Palou took the series point lead in the double-points race, building a 248-212 advantage over 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda fielded by CGR. The series’ six-time/reigning champ from New Zealand, Dixon earned $316,305.

Next up on the schedule is the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader, headline events of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 12-13 on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

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Results Sunday of the 105th Indianapolis 500 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed, reason out (if any) and purse earnings:

  1. (8) Helio Castroneves-(W), Honda, 200, Running, $1,828,305
    2. (6) Alex Palou, Honda, 200, Running, $649,305
    3. (26) Simon Pagenaud-(W), Chevrolet, 200, Running, $403,305
    4. (12) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $343,305
    5. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $286,305
    6. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 200, Running, $157,305
    7. (31) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $162,305
    8. (3) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $302,805
    9. (24) Juan Pablo Montoya-(W), Chevrolet, 200, Running, $135,305
    10. (5) Tony Kanaan-(W), Honda, 200, Running, $130,305
    11. (9) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 200, Running, $225,305
    12. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $220,305
    13. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $212,305
    14. (15) Takuma Sato-(W), Honda, 200, Running, $222,305
    15. (22) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $110,305
    16. (2) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running, $252,305
    17. (1) Scott Dixon-(W), Honda, 200, Running, $316,305
    18. (20) Jack Harvey, Honda, 200, Running, $200,305
    19. (25) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running, $100,305
    20. (17) Scott McLaughlin-(R), Chevrolet, 200, Running, $151,305
    21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running, $200,305
    22. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay-(W), Honda, 200, Running, $200,305
    23. (30) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $200,305
    24. (29) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $200,305
    25. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi-(R), Honda, 199, Running, $210,305
    26. (27) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $200,305
    27. (14) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $214,305
    28. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 199, Running, $200,305
    29. (10) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 198, Running, $200,305
    30. (32) Will Power-(W), Chevrolet, 197, Running, $200,305
    31. (33) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 169, Contact, $100,305
    32. (18) Graham Rahal, Honda, 118, Contact, $217,305
    33. (28) Stefan Wilson, Honda, 32, Contact, $100,305

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 190.690 mph
Time of Race: 2:37:19.3846
Margin of victory: 0.4928-seconds
Cautions: 2 for 18 laps
Lead changes: 35 among 13 drivers

Lap Leaders
Herta, 1
VeeKay, 2-30
Herta, 31-32
Dixon, 33-35
Castroneves, 36-38
Herta, 39-48
VeeKay, 49
Daly, 50-70
Castroneves, 71-76
Palou, 77
O’Ward, 78
Rahal, 79-81
VeeKay, 82-83
Daly, 84-102
O’Ward, 103-113
Rahal, 114-118
Palou, 119-124
Castroneves, 125-126
O’Ward, 127-130
Palou, 131-147
Castroneves, 148-149
O’Ward, 150
Sato, 151-156
Rosenqvist, 157
Dixon, 158-161
Palou, 162-168
Castroneves, 169-171
Palou, 172
Pagenaud, 173-175
Karam, 176-177
Ferrucci, 178-179
Rosenqvist, 180-192
Sato, 193
Castroneves, 194-195
Palou, 196-198
Castroneves, 199-200

NTT IndyCar Series point standings: 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 248; 2, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 212; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 211; 4, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 201; 5, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 191; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 184; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 154; 8, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 148; 9, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 143; 10, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 138.

Note _ All cars use the fourth generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR-12) with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork, Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(W) _Denotes Indianapolis 500 winner

(R) _ Denotes Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year candidate

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2021
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