Why F1's owner is investing in an IndyCar underdog - The Race
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Why F1’s owner is investing in an IndyCar underdog

Oct 6 2020
By Jack Benyon

The news that Formula 1 owner Liberty Media is investing in Meyer Shank Racing – an IndyCar team with just one podium to its name so far – may have come as a shock to you.

But it’s not just a story of mutual friends. This is part of a wider plan as MSR looks to become the next North American powerhouse motorsports team.

Liberty bought F1 in January 2017 and since then, it has revolutionised the championship’s social media and marketing strategy, achieved something never accomplished to this scale before in F1 by getting teams to agree to a considerable cost cap and revamped payment structure, and done a good job of weathering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to deliver a 17-race season.

“I think this equity partnership makes us one of the strongest teams in North America” :: Michael Shank

But F1 isn’t its only asset. It also owns the multi-billion dollar radio broadcasting company Sirius XM based in New York. Its CEO is Jim Meyer. And his surname is on the door of the Columbus, Ohio-based Meyer Shank Racing team.

Meyer is a long-time motorsport fan who’s attended the Indianapolis 500 for decades, and bought into Shank’s racing team in April 2017, leading to Sirius XM’s logos appearing on its IndyCar.

Michael Shank

Michael Shank (pictured above) – a successful racer in his own right – is predominantly known for his sportscar team ownership. In 2012 he bought an IndyCar and then sold it a year later without competing, and it took until 2017 when Meyer joined for a regular IndyCar presence to come to fruition.

The team has gradually increased its appearances, from just the Indianapolis 500 in 2017 (pictured below) to its first full season in 2020, and while 12th doesn’t tell the whole story of a season where driver Jack Harvey could easily be inside the top six, the team’s performances have not gone unnoticed.

Jack Harvey Indianapolis 500 2017

Now with Liberty onboard, the future looks bright for MSR.

“My partner Jim Meyer, who bought into my team about three years ago, has worked with Liberty for a long time,” Shank told The Race in an exclusive interview.

“Liberty are doing more and more in motorsports as we all know, and we offered them some opportunities that appeal to them as they’re trying to expand, maybe, their footprint a bit in motorsports and different opportunities.

“All of the commonalities kind of made sense for everybody. They’re probably the best at what they do and very aggressive but very straightforward, easy to work with, actually. It allows MSR to continue to get a solid footing in North America.

Jack Harvey Meyer Shank IndyCar 2020

“I think this equity partnership makes us one of the strongest teams in North America with really solid footing to be able to flex with the economy or anything that happens in the world today.

“At the same time I think we can bring some value to these guys too so it just made sense for all of us.

“It took a while for it all to happen but Jim Meyer is just the best, and my wife and I got really lucky when he decided to come work with us.”

Of course, Meyer helped get the foot in the door with Liberty, but MSR as an organisation has had to prove it is worthy of investment from what is a multi-billion dollar company.

As Shank points out there was value his team can bring, on multiple levels.

Mid-Ohio IMSA 2020

In July, Team Penske announced that it would not continue with Acura in the IMSA SportsCar Championship, the top tier of endurance racing in the US.

Since then, the car has won the last three races outright, and from 2021 MSR – which helped develop and win a class championship with Acura NSX in the same championship’s GT class – will become one of the two top manufacturer squads with the Acura.

From 2023, IMSA and the World Endurance Championship will adopt the same rules package in their top tiers, meaning Shank may be the top team to run Acura – Honda’s luxury brand – both at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in America’s premier sportscar racing category.

“You think about Carlin, you think about United Autosports, they must have 25 cars in their stable right? That is not me” :: Michael Shank

Couple that with a potentially race winning IndyCar programme, and MSR looks like a sure thing investment that could soon be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chip Ganassi, Penske and the Andretti team it currently shares an engineering alliance with in IndyCar.

From Shank’s side – and he stresses this is merely his personal view – he’s not interested in having 20+ cars spread out across many championships. He wants to race the best teams and drivers in the best championships.

Jack Harvey Meyer Shank Indianapolis IndyCar 2020

“People do call us a smaller team and I understand that, but especially with this announcement that moniker will probably have to be shed at some point,” adds Shank.

“I can just tell you what, from my standpoint, what my goals are, the Mike part.

“You think about Carlin, you think about United Autosports or some guys like that, they must have 25 cars in their stable right? That is not me.

“What I want to do is the highest-level racing that we can afford, at the highest level that we can produce really well.

“Just talking about me, right. What’s good for them is fine but for me it was, you know, at the max two full-time IndyCars if ever that came to be. And the factory Acura sportscar programme with the hopes of getting that thing to Le Mans someday.

“If LMDh pulls off like it is, that would be the goal, but we’re not going to have a stable of cars, we’re just going to have fantastic people, very top world class drivers, and to be able to return value to people to decide to do deals with us, partner with us.

“I’m totally good with that. So we’ll see.”

The announcement of Liberty’s investment did mention expansion, but it wasn’t specific whether that was personnel, buildings etc. Of course, social media took that to mean more cars, and it’s true, MSR does want to field two IndyCars as early as next year in certain races.

But like it’s done with Harvey, it won’t rush it. It will be a systematic building up of the personnel around the team and driver, a full development programme. It’s worked for MSR with Harvey, so why change the blueprint?

Jack Harvey

It’s nice to see a team willing to be patient as long as it is trending forwards and that’s something MSR has done ever since Meyer walked through the door.

All the ingredients are there now for MSR to press on towards joining North America’s dominant racing forces.

It has the small matter of the prototype nut to crack running a works programme, and to get that first win over the line in IndyCar.

But you can’t help feel that the approach is there to achieve all of those things and more.

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