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Shank Pleased for IMSA Return to Mid-Ohio

Michael Shank is thrilled to have his team’s home track back on the IMSA calendar…

Photo: IMSA

The pressure will be on Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank going into Sunday’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.

For starters, it’s a home race for the longtime IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team based near Columbus, Ohio. You always want to perform well in front of your friends, family and business associates.

On top of that, the team is fielding a pair of Acura NSX GT3 race cars in the GT Daytona class: the No. 93 for co-drivers Lawson Aschenbach and Justin Marks and the No. 86 car for Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente.

Production versions of the Acura NSX are built just down the road from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio.

Acura is the title sponsor of the race, and even the safety car will be an Acura NSX.

“Listen, this is Acura’s home race,” Shank said. “They stepped up and committed to sponsor the whole weekend, so that’s a big step. That means they trust that Penske and us can get the job done for them and get some results beyond everything else.

“It’s not only the high-up corporate guys at Honda and Acura, it’s also these people that put these NSXs together an hour away from Mid-Ohio. They’re literally hand-built an hour away and those folks will be over.

“They’re proud of this car and they should be because it’s a little piece of artwork, honestly.

“I feel more pressure to make sure we perform in front of them than almost anything else. There’s 160 people that build these cars, and they deserve us to do well.”

This weekend also will mark the first IMSA event for the newly renamed Meyer Shank Racing team.

Jim Meyer, CEO of SiriusXM, was introduced last month as Shank’s new partner and co-owner of the team, which also fields an IndyCar for driver Jack Harvey.

“That was a big step in my world,” Shank said. “We’ve kind of bootstrapped this thing – my wife (MaryBeth) and I – for all these years. I think I’m on my 15th or 16th season with IMSA, or with a Jim France-led group, so I’ve been there a long time.

“I think we have come to a place where we need some help in a couple of departments. I consider myself a pretty damn good operations guy, but I need more help on the commercial side. I think Jim (Meyer) gives us an avenue that very few have, that can add depth to this organization.”

The organization has done reasonably well this season so far in the GTD class, which is running its first race since March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

The No. 86 team comes into the weekend sitting third in the GTD point standings, just 10 points behind the class-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 co-driven by Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow.

The No. 93 team is seventh in points, 21 in arrears of the leaders, but both Marks and Aschenbach have had previous success at Mid-Ohio. Aschenbach had a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series pole there in 2008 and won a World Challenge race at Mid-Ohio just last year.

Marks won a GRAND-AM GT race at Mid-Ohio in 2004. He also won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race there in the rain two years ago.

Shank hopes it won’t rain this weekend – which represents the first IMSA race at Mid-Ohio since 2013 – and is encouraged by the current local forecast.

“If it stays dry like they’re talking about – I mean, in Columbus we’re watching it all the time – but it looks good and cool,” Shank said. “Only 67 to 70 degrees and sunny or partly cloudy at worse, and if it’s like that, more people are going to come out.

“Honestly, if the weather’s great, I think we’re gonna blow the doors off the place. Honest to God. I think there’s going to be such a turnout there.”

Shank was one of the leading evangelists in bringing IMSA competition back to Mid-Ohio, so he’s thrilled heading into the two-hour, 40-minute race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit.

“Listen, for five years, the number one question I got, the absolute number one question was, ‘When are we going to Mid-Ohio again?’” he said. “From everybody in this area that follows us, they wanted to support us.”

Shank and his supporters have gotten their wish, just as another one of Shank’s longtime wishes – fielding a team in the Indianapolis 500 – will happen for the second consecutive year at the end of this month.

“We were at Indy on April 30,” he said. “We tested all day on the (IndyCar) open test and felt real good about it. We did real well.

“We’ll leave Mid-Ohio and I’ve got half my guys going testing with the NSX and half my guys going to Indianapolis, and I’ll float in between all of that. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for; it happens once in a while.”

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