IMSA WEATHERTECH SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
ichael Shank wantonly ignored
sports car’s traditional team ownership
arc. The established formula goes
something like this: Jump in with
something relatively simple and relatable
– a production-based GT class machine –
and figure out the inner workings of
endurance competition, pit stops, driver
rotations and strategy before building
up to run a space-age prototype .
But 13 years into Michael Shank
Racing’s tenure as a Daytona Prototype
and LMP2 entrant in Grand-Am and
IMSA, his in-at-the-deep-end, inverse
approach attracted the interest of Acura
and its Honda Performance Development
skunkworks, which tasked MSR with
fielding Acura’s NSX GT3s in the IMSA
Weather Tech SportsCar Championship’s
GT Daytona class.
For the sake of securing a coveted
factory program, the Ohioan was willing
to overhaul his entire team to become a
GT entrant. But Shank, who moved MSR
from junior open-wheel racing to
prototype sports cars in 2004, says it
was absolutely the right decision.
“In the lifetime of a full racing business
like we are, meaning we make our money
solely from racing, when the opportunity to
have a factory relationship is possible, you
do everything you can to nurture that and
create a long term partnership,” he says.
But even with MSR’s vast prototype
résumé, a leap of faith was required by
HPD when it came to the team’s GT
subject matter familiarity.
Expanding from a single LMP2
program in IMSA’s Prototype class to a
pair of NSX GT3s sent Shank on a hiring
spree, and with the attractiveness of a
factory effort to offer, everyone from Indy
500-winning chief mechanics to hardcore
sports car veterans signed up for a tour
of GTD duty with MSR’s existing crew.
The first task at hand for Shank’s new
army was different than some might
expect, as parking the Ligier JS
P2-Honda and rolling in two new Acura
NSX GT3s was not the first order of
business. The team’s underpinnings – its
foundation as a prototype program –
underwent a wholesale transformation
before mastering the twin-turbo coupes
moved top of the priority list.
“We had to buy all new pit equipment,
timing stands – completely wire and set
them up, fuel rigs, booms, set up pads, pit
awning, truck awning, wheel guns and
wheel hoses,” Shank explains. “We had to
rewrap everything and re-brand everything
– all new. Thousands of dollars in apparel
that the team wears, fire suits, team shirts;
we even changed our logo a little bit.”
If the team’s physical transformation
from prototypes to GTs was completed
with relative ease, adjusting to
accessibility differences between LMP2
and GT3 machines took some extra time.
The user-friendly nature of a prototype,
with bodywork that can be stripped away
in seconds to provide instant access for
mechanics, was always going to be
sacrificed in the move to a road-based GT
racer. The servicing and maintenance
needs also changed.
MSR’s LMP2 car might have been
easier to prepare thanks to its purebred
racing design, but it also meant a higher
number of items – from the drivetrain to
its suspension – required constant
freshening. Although the NSX GT3s are
built to run for longer intervals between
similar overhauls, the extra time required
to complete the work means there are no
shortcuts to happy hour.
“The cars are a bit harder to work on
and require the same exact amount of
effort as a Prototype,” Shank says. “It
takes the same amount of crew for either
racing in 1989.
Before retiring to
team ownership, he
competed in SCCA,
Toyota Atlantics and
USRRC, and even
notched up a single
IRL start in 1997.
As an owner, his
an overall win in
the 2012 Rolex 24.
MSR’s No. 93 NSX GT3 took the brunt
of the new-car niggles at the Rolex 24,
but finished 11th in GTD. And every
glitch is a useful lesson to learn from.