The 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season proved to be a major learning curve for Meyer Shank Racing.
Prior to the season, MSR signed 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud to help propel its championship aspirations as the team fielded two cars with four-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves as the second driver.
The season began on a high note for Pagenaud’s No. 60 Honda team, running as high as eighth in the standings heading into the month of June. After spending the previous seven seasons with Team Penske, Pagenaud immediately meshed with the MSR team.
“I was really surprised of where we started and how strong we were,” Pagenaud told SPEED SPORT. “We fight well. We were up to eighth in the championship until mid-season. That was quite satisfying to be honest with you. The transition from Team Penske to Meyer Shank Racing was good.”
While the team found a rhythm early on, the search for improvements be
“We felt at the time, midseason, that we still had margin for progression,” Pagenaud said. “So we were aiming for higher. Unfortunately, we had a lot of bad luck, a lot of mechanical issues. A lot of mistakes happened in the second part of the season, and we fell in the championship order, which unfortunately doesn’t show how good of a combination we were.
“We are disappointed with that. But we’re working super hard right now trying to improve all this process that we failed at during the 2022 season. I’m pretty confident in 2023, we’ll be better. But I tell you, the competition’s not getting any easier.”
A large part of Pagenaud’s confidence stems from the passion surrounding MSR.
While 15th in the standings leaves a lot to be desired, the mindset around the Ohio-based organization is one Pagenaud believes MSR can feed off moving forward.
“We have a group that has a very strong passion for the sport,” Pagenaud said. “I have a team owner in Mike Shank. That’s somebody that works with his guts, and his heart in it. I’ve got Jim Meyer, who is the other owner and he just wants to extract the best out of his people.
“In a super interesting way, pressure they put on you, they just want to help you extract the best out of yourself. You’d say it’s the same everywhere, but it’s the way they do it is very enjoyable. It’s a very nice environment to work in. I personally feel like we have the group to really have an extraordinary future.
“But it’s just a matter of executing every weekend, basically,” Pagenaud added. “We didn’t finish up the weekends basically last year, but I know we have all the tools to do it.”
Those keys to success were shown at its highest during the month of May, when treacherous rain conditions at the Indy G.P. couldn’t slow the Frenchman as he powered through to finish second.
The second-place result was Pagenaud’s fifth podium on the Indy Road Course, and MSR’s third podium since its inception five seasons ago.
“With a new team, being able to finish second in such a daunting race was a testament to our nerves as a team,” Pagenaud said. “That to me was super cool, because you’re fighting against some teams, I’ve been with Team Penske that has 55 years of experience. Teams like Ganassi, Andretti and McLaren.
“We basically showed them on that weekend that we could get it done. That really was to me, one of the most satisfying moment in the season.”
Looking ahead to 2023, the blueprint for success comes in two phases for MSR and Pagenaud.
The first one being the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“The way that I think Helio and myself look at it, is Indianapolis being a standalone,” Pagenaud said. “It’s the one race of the year that you go to not finish second, but to win.
“So to win, we need more speed, it’s as simple as that. I think we have everything else we need to get it done. But we didn’t have the speed last year,” Pagenaud noted. “So we need to find that. I’m confident the team’s working in the right direction, obviously, we’ll know when we get to the track. But the key is to find speed. So that’s number one.”
The driver’s championship poses a different set of challenges for the team.
“In terms of the championship, that’s a different story. Obviously, you need to be there every weekend, you need to be consistent, fast,” Pagenaud said. “We were very fast on street circuits last year. We’ve not been fast on short oval, and we’ve not been consistent on those tracks.
“We need to improve on the road course. So we’ve got a lot of work on the table. Some of it is us, making sure that even when we don’t have a car to win that we finish in the top-six. That’s communication within the team. That’s our own process of things. We’re working on it. I’m very confident that’s going to improve in 2023.”
As Pagenaud looks to return to victory lane, the 38-year-old’s attention to detail and tireless effort, could be the driving point to a breakout season for MSR.Follow @DHoffmanMedia22