RACER takes a look at each full-time NTT IndyCar Series team ahead of the new season’s launch this weekend at St. Petersburg, continuing with Meyer Shank Racing.
2022 Entrants’ Championship (1-25):
15th, No. 60 Honda with Simon Pagenaud
18th, No. 06 Honda with Helio Castroneves
No. 60 Honda with Simon Pagenaud
No. 06 Honda with Helio Castroneves
Meyer Shank Racing’s debut in 2022 as a full-time two-car program left team owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer with pits in their stomachs.
Newcomer Simon Pagenaud spent most of the season trying to find a happy chassis setup with Indy 500-winning race engineer Garrett Mothersead, but those happy days were in limited supply for the 2016 IndyCar champion. Teammate Helio Castroneves, back for his first full season since 2017, wasn’t his usual smiling and laughing self for most of the year as he and his race engineer fell out and never got back on track.
MSR’s competitive fortunes were heavily tied to Andretti Autosport through the ongoing relationship with Andretti Technologies, which brings race engineers and damping/chassis setup data to MSR. As Andretti struggled last season, MSR usually followed.
An engineering change for Castroneves was made near the halfway point, and while spirits improved, results for the four-time Indy 500 winner did not – his best finish over the last eight races was a 13th at the crash-filled Nashville event. Closing the year sitting 18th in the standings, Castroneves was one spot behind Ed Carpenter Racing’s misery-laden Conor Daly. A few steps ahead in the championship, Pagenaud’s MSR debut was also one that fell shy of expectations after a promising start to the year unraveled in the second half of the season.
MSR’s leadership decided the best course of action was to stick with their veteran duo and see if what they aspired to achieve in 2022 could be conjured in 2023. Unlike a few of their rivals, MSR’s disappointment with most aspects of its season did not lead to major shakeup or overhaul throughout the organization. With Mothersead remaining with Pagenaud on the No. 60 Honda and a year of solid chemistry-building between them, and Dave Seyffert returning to the No. 06 with Castroneves for their first full season together, there’s a lot of confidence within the program for all they can achieve.
If Pagenaud was a bit tense at times last season, he’s found a relaxed place to live within so far this year. Prone to overthinking while he’s driving, the version of Pagenaud who spent too much of 2022 buried deep in his head was nowhere to be found at Spring Training as the No. 60 was among the fastest cars at the test. His teammate wasn’t as fortunate, but the team is fully committed to giving Castroneves and Seyffert whatever they need to succeed.
WHAT THEY NEED
There’s no specific item that will change MSR’s fortunes. Every facet of how the team goes IndyCar racing is up for improvement. Castroneves qualified inside the top 10 two times in 2022 and led one lap. Pagenaud started inside the top 10 three times and led zero laps. There’s nothing there to deconstruct and build upon when you have such a bizarre year – wipe the slate clear and give it another go.
The good news is Andretti Autosport appears to be faster than a season ago, and with Pagenaud’s impressive pre-season pace, MSR could be on the cusp of a breakthrough. Whether it happens with the No. 60 and the No. 06, or with the No. 60 alone, is a question worth tracking.
Pagenaud’s life is one big dedication to routine and flow, and if he can stay in a positive state throughout the course of the season, he’s capable of taking the No. 60 entry from 15th in the standings to 10th or better. It’s harder to offer insights for the No. 06 since pre-season testing offered little use for drawing season-long conclusions.
If there’s one obvious point to make, it’s that MSR’s ownership group is looking for immediate competitiveness. Whatever amount of patience Meyer and Shank demonstrated in 2022 has been exhausted; MSR’s factory Acura IMSA GTP team just won the Rolex 24 At Daytona with Castroneves and Pagenaud in the car with Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun and, fair or not, that’s set the bar exceedingly high for what they want to see from their IndyCar program.
Both Castroneves and Pagenaud enter the season in the final year of their contracts, and with Blomqvist in mind, MSR’s IndyCar drivers know he could be driving the No. 60 or No. 06 in 2024 if either of their seasons go sideways.
There’s a lot on the line for MSR in IndyCar. Its IMSA team delivered a championship in October and opened its season by capturing its biggest race. Expectations for MSR’s IndyCar program to perform at a similar level are clear and undeniable. All the bad from last year is in the rearview mirror. It’s time to deliver.