The 2021 IndyCar season begins Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at 3 p.m. on NBC4. Navigate to other previews with the menu below. Beneath the menu, find a preview of Meyer Shank Racing’s year ahead.
PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) – Only twice this century has Hélio Castroneves not driven an Indy car for Team Penske.
That famous block-font No. 3 with sponsors like Marlboro, Shell and Pennzoil, powered him to 30 victories over 18 years, including the Indianapolis 500 three times.
An Indianapolis-only driver since 2017, the first time Castroneves hopped in an Indy car for a non-Penske team since 1999 was a doubleheader last year to fill in for an Arrow McLaren SP driver with a concussion.
That was the only time – until he suits up this season driving a new car for Pataskala’s Meyer Shank Racing.
“I remember talking to (Mike) about it,” Castroneves told NBC4 this month. “This is like way in the beginning of the 2020 season. He was considering. He didn’t know if he wanted to add a second car or not. And I started talking to different teams as well. However, Mike stepped up the game and said, ‘You know what, let’s talk about it and let’s be firm and let’s make things happen.’”
Castroneves will drive MSR’s No. 06 Honda in six races this year, beginning with the Indianapolis 500 at the end of May.
|Hélio Castroneves’ 6 IndyCar races in 2021|
|May 30||105th Indianapolis 500||Oval|
|Aug. 8||Streets of Nashville||Street|
|Aug. 14||Indianapolis road course||Road|
|Sept. 19||Laguna Seca||Road|
|Sept. 26||Streets of Long Beach||Street|
A veteran investment
After 20 full seasons in IndyCar/CART, Castroneves drove three years in Penske’s IMSA Acura DPi sports car program, winning the championship last year. Now he returns to IndyCar on a limited schedule to help a midfield team reach its next level.
“We’re hoping that he’ll bring the whole program up with his experience,” Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Michael Shank said in an interview at his shop last month.
Running one car for a full season costs around $7 million, Shank said, which includes the vehicle ($1 million) and the 16 or 17 people who work on it, from engineers to pit crew to PR. The No. 06’s six-race schedule, Shank said, is an investment in the low millions.
Funding for the team’s expansion came from an investment last fall by Liberty Media, the company that owns Formula One and MSR primary sponsor SiriusXM.
“It’s everything,” Shank said. His co-owner, Jim Meyer, retired from his post as SiriusXM CEO at the end of last year.
Shank eventually wants the No. 06 to run the full schedule, but he said that investment will likely not come until at least 2023 when IndyCar transitions to a new chassis and hybrid engine.
“We want to expand when it’s the right time to expand,” he said, “and we feel we need to wait until we can do it all at one time.”
Castroneves described Team Penske to his old “neighborhood” and MSR as “new friends.”
“Being with a team like Penske for 21 years, they knew exactly what I liked,” he said, “so now I need to make sure that the team understands what I like and what they like as well.”
The 45-year-old Brazilian seems to be off to a good start, though, finishing fastest in a recent test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for rookies and “refresher” drivers. Castroneves aims this year to help MSR “build a good foundation” and try to get a car into the winner’s circle.
“Mike and the rest of the group are excited about it,” he said. “And every time you come to a place that you have the arms wide open and (you’re) well received, it’s fun, it’s great.”
Higher expectations for Harvey
Other than helping establish MSR’s second team, Castroneves serves as a teammate and mentor to the organization’s full-time driver, Jack Harvey.
The 28-year-old Englishman and his No. 60 team return for their second full season. Harvey finished 15th in the standings last year among 19 drivers who attempted all races, but he was only 27 points from the top 10.
|2020 NTT IndyCar Series standings|
“I think we were pretty quick a lot of the time,” Harvey told NBC4 on Wednesday. “I think we had a decent share of bad luck or at least unfortunate, untimely things for sure. But the nice thing about that is sometimes the hardest thing to find is speed, and I think we had that.”
Harvey was a victim of what Shank called “really silly stuff” that cost him some quality finishes. After running near the front in St. Louis, an inopportune caution shuffled him to the back of the field, and at St. Petersburg – the season finale – freak contact with a spinning car turned a seventh place run into a 19th place finish.
“We easily could have finished seventh or eighth in the championship last year with just two or three different weekend results,” Shank said.
With that potential in mind, Shank’s expectations for Harvey have grown.
“We want to finish in the top five in the championship, which requires five or six top-five finishes and the rest of them mostly top 10s,” he said.
“We deserve to win a race,” Shank continued. “We put our time in. We have the team to do it. We have the equipment to do it. Jack is ready to do it. We need to win one race. And we’ve been very realistic about our expectations all the way up to this point, but now it’s time to kind of cash it in.”
Harvey agreed that grabbing a checkered flag this year is a “realistic goal.”
“I’d love to see us win a race or two this season for sure. I think this team is capable of that,” he said. “I think if we finish in the top five on points, I think we’ll all be jumping up and down at the end of the year.”
Harvey’s early career accomplishments include a podium finish in 2019, two second-place points finishes in feeder series Indy Lights and the 2012 championship in British Formula 3. He said he has already soaked up knowledge from “extremely gracious” new teammate Castroneves, whose hunger, passion and enthusiasm for driving “is second to none and just one that I’m hopeful that I still have when I’m 45.”
“He elevates me, pushes me,” Harvey said, “because, obviously, for as great as he is and whatnot, I still want to be the lead driver in the team and have the best results.”
Castroneves, too, recognizes that competitive yet symbiotic relationship of pushing each other upward.
“We’re going to work together well to achieve the goal, which is win,” Castroneves said, viewing his role with Harvey “not as a mentor, but as a good teammate. That I can create a good foundation for himself in the future and for me as well to keep it going to do what I love.”
‘Why not us?’ Ready to break through
The question remains, though, how does Meyer Shank Racing, a team in just its second full IndyCar season, propel a winless, 15th place effort into one that can challenge for wins and break into the top five in points?
MSR has ramped up its development and preparation to turn momentum from last year into better results this year, Shank said. For example, the cars that MSR will field in the Indianapolis 500 were already built by late March.
“We’re well ahead of where we’ve ever been,” Shank said. “We have more parts and spares and stuff built up. We’ve done more development than we’ve ever done in the offseason.”
Harvey said he worked with his engineer and driving coach this winter to review every weekend and “understand the good, the bad and the ugly” of last year. He said he is happy with his team’s offseason gains and that everyone has “dug in” preparing for the season.
“There wasn’t necessarily one big thing that we needed to improve on,” he said. “It was 10 areas by 1% or so.”
Mechanically, Shank noted, it comes down to the fine details that lie in the 30% of an Indy car that isn’t made by a manufacturer (Honda or Chevrolet) or isn’t “spec” (equal throughout the series). These customizable areas include parts in the suspension and the braking systems, for example.
That 30% is crucial, Shank said, at a time when IndyCar competition is so stiff, “If you’re on the bad side of 1/10 of a second – on the bad side of that tenth – you’ll lose three or four grid spots.”
Harvey said he doesn’t worry about whether people still consider MSR, a part-time underdog as recent as 2019, to be “the little team that could.”
“Whether we’ve got one car, whether we’ve got four or five cars, I don’t mind, nor do I care,” he said. “I just want us to be the team that did.”
He summed up his mantra in two words: “Why not?”
“Someone has to win these races and I feel like everyone at Meyer Shank Racing has enough talent and capability to go out and do it,” he said, “Therefore, why not us?” 🏁 (Return to menu)