In 2000, Juan Pablo Montoya put a beat down on the Indy Racing League at Indianapolis and then headed back to the CART circuit the following weekend at Milwaukee. The IRL got no benefit of having the hottest driver in North America for the follow-up act after the Indianapolis 500.
By all rights, Helio Castroneves should be running the Detroit doubleheader this weekend for the Meyer Shank Racing team, but he won’t. It’s not about animosity or open-wheel wars; it’s just business, and even with a shiny new Indy 500 win, the budget for Belle Isle was never part of the plan.
Four of the next six weekends, the newest member of the four-timer’s club at Indianapolis will be competing in Tony Stewart’s new SRX series Saturday nights on CBS at a variety of pavement and dirt tracks in identically-prepared IROC-like tin tops.
Once he’s through with the busy SRX obligations, Shank’s team will put the No. 06 Honda back on track for Castroneves starting in August at the new Nashville street race. And from there, he’ll finish out the six-race deal at Indy with the Harvest GP, then do the trip out west to close out the year at Portland, Laguna Seca, and Long Beach. But it’s staying at six, because that’s what’s in the budget.
“None of us knew the future when signed Helio, but we liked what each other was bringing, two guys that needed each other, and it changed my life,” said Mike Shank, co-owner of the Indy 500 winner along with Jim Meyer. “Obviously, you can’t foresee a one-off team winning Indianapolis and it would be great if we could run him a few extra times in 2021 to go above the six, but it’s complicated.
“We’re working on a deal for the next two years, and I’m fully focused to fund this thing, and I like the situation we’re in.”
It would seem to behoove Roger Penske and IndyCar to make sure Castroneves stayed on track in an IndyCar since it was one of the most popular victories ever, and a great team story to boot.
“But it’s not that simple,” said Shank. “He’s got conflicts all through June and early July, and even if IndyCar said they needed him, it’s complicated. So his next outings with us pick up again in August. I was emailing Roger this morning and he didn’t ask me if we had any backup plan, but it’s not worth it – I want to plan on something cooler for 2022.”
The technical support with Andretti Autosport has been a godsend to the team based outside Columbus, Ohio, and how ironic was it they wound up in Victory Lane instead of Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay or Alexander Rossi?
“Michael (Andretti) has been so good to us, best partner you could ask for and I’d like to stay partners with him, so we’re looking at all the possibilities,” Shank said.
Shank and wife Mary Beth are the lifeblood of professional racers, never getting discouraged enough to pack it in when they couldn’t get an IndyCar engine, and starting small with just a couple races and building into a contender.
“When we got to take that victory lap it was overwhelming, I’ve never felt that much love directed at one person,” continued the man who will be competing in IMSA and IndyCar this weekend. “That was so exciting, and I want to come back even stronger next May.”