After more than a decade of prototype racing, Michael Shank is set for a new chapter in his racing career, as the longtime IMSA/Grand-Am team owner shifts gears to the GT Daytona class with Acura’s new factory NSX GT3 program.
Shank, along with RealTime Racing were confirmed last week as Acura’s partner teams for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge, respectively.
“It’s my first works program,” Shank told Sportscar365 following the program’s announcement. “I had semi-works with Ford for eight or nine years, but this is the first time that this type of program has come our way.
“Every team in the paddock works for a factory deal.”
The Ohio-based team, which will be celebrating its 250th prototype start in next weekend’s season-ending Petit Le Mans, will see a significant expansion, with the doubling of its program, as well as moving to a new class.
Shank said he’s planning to make a number of key hires for the two-car GTD effort, particularly on the crew side.
“There’s going to be a time, but some of the staff I’m hiring are GT3 experienced,” he said. “We’re doing that on our own.
“We don’t have to do that but I thought it’s the right thing to do, just to have some people in there that know a little bit more than us.”
On the driver front, Shank said he’ll need a total of eight drivers, four of them full-season.
“Obviously Acura and Honda have a say in this, and I have a little bit of a say, and program manager Lee [Niffenegger] has a little bit of a say, but everybody’s got their favorites and it’s just the way it goes,” Shank said.
“We try and talk it through and compromise where we need to sometimes here and there.”
He expects to bring in “some cool people” for the car’s planned competition debut at Daytona.
Given his history with employing open-wheel drivers, it would come as no surprise to see two of Honda’s IndyCar stars at the wheel of the mid-engined sports cars.
“I don’t know who it is yet but it will be someone outside of sports cars probably,” Shank said.
While being a factory program, and expecting to employ a top-class driver lineup, Shank said he’s cognizant of the category’s Pro-Am nature and has been in communication with IMSA on the driver selection process.
“We are not trying to abuse the system, but use the system,” he said. “We understand there are all kinds of ways of splitting this up. We’re going to get the best Silvers we can get that are legitimate Silver guys.
“To that end, for the last three weeks I’ve been working directly with [IMSA Race Director] Beaux Barfield on my thoughts.
“Just before I actually present it, but ‘Here’s my thought, what do you think of these four people.’
“They haven’t given us the rules yet but I kind of have an idea. I’m trying to get this thing funneled down.”
With a large investment set to be made to his team, expectations are high, as MSR takes on some of the most experienced GT teams next year.
“We’re just going to load it up,” Shank said. “I’m going to load people up and get the best drivers I can, and we’re going to focus on our program.
“I’m going to get experienced people to drive the car, experienced people to work on the car and to tune the car. As much as I can afford, and we’re not leaving much on the table.
“We’ll be able to test up until we register the car. We’re going to maximize everything we can.”