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Two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Meyer Shank Racing watching race from afar after cheating scandal

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Michael Shank spent Friday at his mother’s house in Ohio bitterly watching a timing and scoring feed from the first IMSA practice of the sports car season.

It was agonizing for the owner of the team that is the two-time defending winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but was shut down at the end of 2023 in large part because of a cheating scandal that tarnished last year’s Rolex win.

“I'm just down, just bummed,” Shank told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “When it's time for us not to be sports car racing, I'd like to be able to choose that, not have it chosen for us. That's the biggest disappointment. We had a lot of success at a high level, and unfortunately we lost a partner and were not able to continue.”

Some six weeks after the 2023 victory — the third overall for the Shank organization and second consecutive in the most prestigious endurance race in the United States — IMSA ruled that Meyer Shank Racing had manipulated tire pressure data during the win and that Honda Performance Development self-reported the cheating. IMSA allowed the No. 60 ARX-06 to keep the victory, the Rolex watches and the trophy, but levied six substantial penalties against the team that ultimately led to the firing of an MSR engineer and the shuttering of the team.

MSR was the reigning IMSA champion at the time and jostling with fellow Acura team Wayne Taylor Racing for Honda's dedicated support. Although Shank thought the team could repair its relationship with Honda and Acura, he could not. Honda moved its factory support to the Taylor team for a second entry.

Without the backing of a manufacturer, Shank had to close the IMSA program despite three 2023 wins, including the season finale, and a third-place finish in the final season standings.

“We were in a bad spot and we understood where we stood after that,” Shank said. “We got fixed what we needed to get fixed, we focused on the best possible finishes we could achieve, and at the end of the day, we had the best results of everyone out there.”

The closing of the team has denied Helio Castroneves a shot at a fourth consecutive victory in the twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona International Raceway. He won it with Wayne Taylor in 2021, then Shank in 2022 and 2023. Castroneves has transitioned to a minority team owner role at Meyer Shank and will run the Indianapolis 500 for them; he earned his record-tying fourth Indy win with Shank in 2021.

“Disappointed, to be honest. I definitely would have liked to defend the race win and tried to go four in a row,” Castroneves said. “Even though MSR is not in the sports car program, we’re working hard to come back in the near future.”

Tom Blomqvist, a stalwart of Shank's IMSA program, is now on the MSR IndyCar team. He will race in next weekend's Rolex in a Cadillac for Action Express Racing in the top GTP class, where he will be eligible for a third consecutive win. Colin Braun, who was also part of last year's winning team, landed a ride in the LMP2 class driving for Crowdstrike Racing.

Shank is now focused on a rebuild of his IndyCar program, as well an eventual return to IMSA. He's retained most of the sports car employees and all the equipment. If he can land a manufacturer deal, MSR could be back on the sports car grid as early as next season.

His IndyCar lineup has been overhauled for Blomqvist, who was able to run three races last season, and Felix Rosenqvist, who is entering his sixth IndyCar season with his third different team.

This time is different for Rosenqvist, who has one career win, six podiums and five poles in 79 races, because he's been assured of job security at Shank. He needed a change of scenery after three years of uncertainty at Arrow McLaren Racing, which had effectively hired Alex Palou to replace him in a move that never happened.

Rosenqvist said he is refreshed and eager for a clean slate at Shank.

“What we've tried to do is take a guy that everyone acknowledges is a super fast guy that has had some issues at different points of races or race weekends, and we've tried to give him a place where he knows that he is safe,” Shank said. “We've told Felix, 'You’re not going anywhere, your job is here for a few years, here are the expectations and let's go build some consistency.'”

Rosenqvist, who has raced with Blomqvist since 2009, has encouraged his fellow Swede to commit fully to IndyCar. Both have homes in Monaco, and Rosenqvist said he regrets having tried to have “one foot in Indianapolis and one foot in Europe” through the first part of his career. Blomqvist has since found a place to live in Miami and will be moving out of Monaco.

Shank isn't expecting a championship this year in IndyCar, and maybe not even a race win. But he wants to see a radically improved team and "being north of P13 of P14 in the overall championship would be a good start.”

The team tests next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and from there, Shank will travel to Key West and follow the Rolex from there. His wife decided he could not stay in Ohio and sulk all next weekend as his former competitors raced without MSR.

“My wife knew I'd be in trouble and said ‘We’ve gotta get you out of here,'” Shank said. “So we'll go down to the boat in Key West and watch the race from there, and it will be considerable FOMO.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing