Some people are adept at taking no for an answer. Acura’s newest DPi partner, Michael Shank, isn’t one of those well-balanced types. It’s also possible his single-mindedness is part of what drew the automotive brand to his doorstep.
Passed over for two life-changing racing programs previously, Shank remained resolute in his belief the Pataskala, Ohio-based IMSA team would be rewarded with a third shot – rather than a third strike – to bring Meyer Shank Racing back to pro-level prominence. IMSA’s everyman is headed to DPi as one of Acura’s two key ARX-05 programs, and it isn’t a byproduct of luck or good fortune.
“It was completely planned, through and through,” Shank told RACER. “I’d spent eight years at Ford, they helped us, we helped them through a lot of different things, including the development of the EcoBoost motor when we did that record run in the Riley Daytona Prototype in 2013, and it came to a point where Chip Ganassi Racing got involved, and I could see where that was going to go. And we worked well with Ganassi in 2014, but I could see that Ford wanted to go that direction when they were picking a team for the Ford GT deal.
“At that point, I knew I needed to find another place for our team with regard to a manufacturer. And we also, at the same time, saw that P2 category was going to be the car of the future, if you would. Now that certainly led into DPi and now LMDh, but we knew we needed to establish ourselves with a new manufacturer, and we chose this route that began with using Honda’s motors in our LMP2 car in 2015. It was a long route. I was advised highly by (IMSA chairman) Jim France to pick a partner, and don’t ever deviate and be loyal. And we have done that.”
With MSR’s overall win at Petit Le Mans in 2016 with their Honda-powered LMP2 entry, the team took another step forward, but like the Ford GT program, it lost out on earning the contract to field Acura’s new-for-2017 DPi program that ultimately went to Team Penske.
“In 2016, we also ran the same car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where that went well for us,” Shank said. “And then when we finished by winning at Petit Le Mans, I was extremely proud of our crew, but our path was cut when, again, I came up for the next big deal coming down the road and Roger Penske showed up on the scene. And I knew I was in trouble there.
“The only difference is that Jon Ikeda, who runs Acura, wanted to make sure that the new NSX was a campaigned in a big way. And although that since we didn’t get the prototype deal and Roger did, we got the NSX program and that car, the NSX, has really changed so much for us. And we’re eternally grateful for all the folks that believed in us, and last year, we won the championship and we’re leading the championship now.
“And for me, it was a path and a means to an end. We knew we wanted to get back to the top levels for next year and years beyond. And we had to work our butts off to get the results that we needed to deliver for Acura. And I feel like we have. I think it just has worked out perfectly, to be honest with you.”
As it turns out, Shank found kindred spirits at Acura with Ikeda, at Honda Performance Development with VP Steve Eriksen and president Ted Klaus, and across the Honda brand where the MSR team is starting to make its name in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“Take a guy Jon, or like Ted, or like Steve Eriksen, and he’s been with HPD since forever, and while they weren’t always able to say yes to what I was going after, he’s one of a couple people who told me not to give up,” Shank said. “He said, ‘Mike, stay the course, stay the course, just do what we asked you to do.’ Jim France said, ‘Mike don’t deviate. Don’t even think about talking to other manufacturers.’
“And so I doubled down on it. And we delivered. I think we still deliver it to them today on the NSX GT3 program. And I’m promising to deliver them on the future program that we have, and the programs that we have coming for them. We had opportunities to deviate to Chevrolet in IndyCar. And I said we’re not doing it. We stayed the course. We stayed Honda. We stayed Acura. We showed our loyalty. And I think this is some of the world coming right. And that’s not bull****. That’s exactly what happened.”