Being backed by Formula 1 owner Liberty Media, winning the Indianapolis 500 on its first attempt as a two-car team, having one of the most unusual technical tie-ups in IndyCar and now signing two of the most travelled European racers to reach North America are just some of the reasons that make Meyer Shank a team that's fun to talk about.
Alongside the signing of those aforementioned drivers, Max Verstappen-beater Tom Blomqvist and Charles Leclerc conquerer Felix Rosenqvist, it’s moved the Indy 500’s most successful current driver Helio Castroneves into a team owner role and released a driver who missed half of last year with a concussion after a crash.
It seems there never is a dull moment at Meyer Shank. And we haven’t even mentioned it leaving the IMSA SportsCar Championship, after a year where it was fined for manipulating tyre pressure data at the Daytona 24 Hours.
The 2023 season started with the expectation of winning its first race outside of the Indy 500 but involved both of its cars being taken out on the first lap of the opening race of the season, which set the tone for the year.
Simon Pagenaud’s crash that led to a concussion at Mid Ohio in July really hurt a lot of the staff who work on the team and such a scary thing rumbling on in the background undoubtedly had an impact on performances.
The team - which has an Andretti technical partnership - only managed one top-10 finish this year versus 10 in 2022. It even had a second place that year, scored by Pagenaud at the Indy road course, but its best finish in 2023 was 10th from Castroneves at Texas in April.
“Last season was a massive disappointment for us,” team co-owner Mike Shank tells The Race. “It started out bad at St Pete when both cars got taken out in that crash. And we never quite got our mojo back after that.
“And then of course, the big accident with Simon in Mid Ohio which really took a lot of steam out of everybody's sails. A lot of wind out of it. It just was one of those years. We just couldn't get it all together.
“It wasn't just one thing, it almost never is just one thing, right?
“We have new full-time drivers this year. That's obviously our biggest thing [to change].
“Our processes and our car builds and our relationship with Andretti on the technical side is getting stronger and stronger and we've identified where we thought we were weak in those areas. And we just tripled down on it, to try to kind of find a path out of it.”
Having two new drivers is not usually the way to work your way out of a hole, and signing one who is responsible for a very high rate of DNFs in IndyCar - Rosenqvist - and someone who hasn’t driven single-seaters regularly in so long - Blomqvist - also doesn’t sound ideal for a squad in this situation.
But Shank’s extremely positive and excited.
He believes the leadership role Rosenqvist craved at Ganassi, where he was never going to get that versus Scott Dixon, and at Arrow McLaren, where he was comfortably outperformed by Pato O’Ward, that he will be afforded here can allow him to access a level of performance he's not shown before in IndyCar.
And Blomqvist is someone who disappointed many onlookers with his results in the three races he did last year, although he was taken out in two of those. A lack of peak performance compared to fellow novice Linus Lundqvist was a bit dissatisfying, but Blomqvist’s lack of single-seater outings recently could be to blame for that.
“We're going to give him the opportunity to keep improving and see where it takes us,” says Shank of Blomqvist, who he admits he “threw in the fire” by asking him to make such a tricky mid-season debut.
“We want to see him up in the top 12 or 13 running every weekend and that's our goal for him and then get him into the top 10 this year sometime. That would be a really good goal for us, for him. And he certainly has that ability.
“The potential's there, we've just got to find it and give him the opportunity to bring it out.”
Blomqvist himself has admitted he wasn’t happy with his performances last year, saying “I’m disappointed if I'm not winning and on the podium or fighting for victories”, but has also acknowledged that is nowhere near a realistic goal for him. A 15th at St Pete is where his mind is set.
A big goal for Blomqvist will be adapting to the Indy 500, where Shank says the team makes the most of its sponsorship dollars for the year. It's therefore a crucial event for the team.
Blomqvist’s already impressed the team in his first test on the Brickyard oval and there’s a lot of hope about how he builds on that debut, where he was “flat right away”.
Rosenqvist might be relatively inexperienced at the 500 but he is a “turnkey” there now according to Shank, based on his run last year, as he was fighting for a potential win when he made a mistake and crashed out.
Shank has a plan for how to help Rosenqvist learn from that.
“He easily could have won that race last year and made a mistake and that mistake, we've talked about a lot,” Shank says.
“I think Helio can help him maybe with some things and some advice in those situations. And that's what Helio is really, really good at. He's really strong there. He's been through it all, and I think he'll be a nice offset.”
Rosenqvist acknowledged Castroneves will be a threat for the victory as he drives a third car for the team at the Indy 500 in his only outing in 2024, adding: “I want to lean on him for the 500. He's one of the all-time best at the 500, and I'm going to pick his brain at that place.”
There’s so much about this driver line-up that throws up worries about its potential pitfalls, but there’s an equal amount of potential and hope that bringing in these two drivers is a masterstroke.
That won’t matter if the team doesn’t improve more than just its driver line-up, though.
Even in its troublesome 2023 season there were signs of gains, as a pit coach introduced last off-season had an immediate impact and has now been in place long enough to have made lasting changes at better preparing Shank's pit crew for this year.
Then there’s another year under the belt with the Andretti technical partnership, one that Shank has potentially not leaned on heavily enough in the past, as well as a big boost in the personnel area for 2024, too.
Shanks says some of his IMSA crew - responsible for a race-winning entry last year before pulling out of the series - will be working on the IndyCar programme. Those extra brains will be all important in maximising this Andretti partnership, and that Andretti team has plenty to like about it as a partner in 2024 too as it downsizes from four cars to three.
There’s no doubt Shank has had to take risks in lots of areas for 2024, and there’s no guarantee they will pay off. But to fall from a very strong midfield IndyCar team in 2022 to a relative backmarker a year later was unacceptable for a team of this calibre and with these resources.
Shank himself is a real out-and-out, down-to-earth racer who “if he found a million dollars under a tree, he wouldn't put it in his bank account, he would probably put it into his race team”, reckons new driver Rosenqvist. It seems unlikely he's not wrong.
If this team doesn’t make strides in 2024, it won’t be through lack of effort and dedication.