Shank: Pagenaud IndyCar deal not signed but he’s on MSR’s shortlist

Michael Shank says a deal with Simon Pagenaud to race for Meyer Shank Racing in 2022 is not done, but admits the Frenchman is a “top five” candidate for the ride.

Meyer Shank Racing-Honda, which won this year’s Indianapolis 500 with Helio Castroneves, announced three weeks ago that the Brazilian veteran will race the #06 entry full-time in 2022.

At the same time, it was revealed that the team’s current full-timer, Jack Harvey, would be leaving, a decision taken of his own volition.

With team owners Jim Meyer and Michael Shank having decided that 2022 would be the year to switch up from one full-time/one part-time entry to two full-time entries, that left an attractive permanent ride available.

Motorsport.com understands that Pagenaud will leave Team Penske at season’s end, after seven years in which he accrued a total of 11 wins – including the 2019 Indianapolis 500 – as well as the 2016 championship and two runner-up finishes. However, while two inside sources claim his deal with Meyer Shank Racing is done, Shank insists that is not so.

He told Motorsport.com: “That’s what I heard over the weekend, too – that we’ve signed Simon – but it’s not true. Of course, he’s certainly on our list, but it’s just not there yet.”

Asked if Pagenaud was #1 on that list, Shank replied: “He’s in the top five people we’re talking to, no question about it.”

Shank said he’d be judging any potential new driver for the #60 car with the same criteria in mind as that which governed the hiring of the #06 driver.

“It’s the same exact argument I had when we did Helio’s deal,” he said. “What do we need for our business now? Do we have time to develop a young guy? I like that idea, that premise. Or do we need a guy that we think can build our program, help it overall – as in, both cars – and what is the best thing for our partners?

“So we went Helio’s way and it went pretty OK. So do we do that again? That’s what I’m losing sleep over right now.”

Shank believes that the combination of Castroneves – now a four-time Indy winner – and Pagenaud who is not only a former 500 winner but also charged through to finish a close third this year, could give him two potential winners next Memorial Day Weekend.

“Oh yeah, Simon could do it for sure,” he said, “but so could Ryan Hunter-Reay [tipped to lose his ride with MSR-affiliated Andretti Autosport] if you’re talking about guys that are great at the Speedway. But there are several drivers who could get the job done there, actually – drivers who are not having the greatest of seasons this year.”

He said that his hopes are high that he can replace Harvey with someone of at least equal talent.

“Jack has got a lot of potential, and we just haven’t been able to realize it for some reason. It doesn’t matter: his speed is real! And that’s not bullshit, that’s not fake, and honestly I think it would be hard to be as quick as him in some places. This weekend, for example – he’ll be very strong at IMS, I suspect.

“So replacing Jack is a tall order. That’s why in some ways I’ve been leaning toward going with a younger guy that could hopefully get there… if I could talk my sponsors into it.”

The MSR team does have “some space to sell on the cars” but Shank added, “We’re now at a point where we can just go for the drivers we want. That’s why we announced Helio and why we’re working on the other driver right now. I will try and sell a little bit more, but Sirius and AutoNation have been huge for us and we expect them to continue.”

Castroneves ran Transcard sponsorship his first road/street course race for MSR last weekend at Nashville – but will also compete at IMS, Portland, Laguna Seca and Long Beach this year. Asked if that Nashville-based company could become a permanent primary sponsor in 2022, Shank responded, “Well, you know I’ll try!”

Pagenaud perspective

Since Penske announced its LMDh collaboration with Porsche in IMSA and WEC, there have been rumors that the legendary squad will reduce its IndyCar car-count to three for 2022 as it seeks to realign resources. With Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin holding multi-year contracts, and Roger Penske confirming in June that Pagenaud had not yet been re-hired, that suggested he might be reduced to an Indy 500-only role in IndyCar but being one of the principal development drivers of the Porsche sportscar prototype.

This would follow the pattern seen at the end of 2016, when Penske moved Juan Pablo Montoya from IndyCar to the nascent Acura ARX-05 project, and at the end of 2017 when Helio Castroneves was also moved over to IMSA to join Montoya as a full-timer in the Acura squad.

Like Montoya and Castroneves before him, both of whom felt they still had plenty to give in open-wheel racing, Pagenaud might have reluctantly gone in that direction, not only to remain associated with Penske and gain a foothold with a sportscar brand as prestigious as Porsche but because this opportunity would also offer the opportunity to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

However, Harvey’s impending departure from Meyer Shank opens the door to the possibility of Pagenaud gaining a full-time IndyCar ride and cherry-picking the top sportscar opportunities. Acura/Honda has committed to LMDh, and longtime HPD affiliate MSR already runs an Acura ARX-05, thus Pagenaud could compete in the four IMSA enduros, assist in the development of Acura/Honda’s LMDh car, and then race for the company at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I really can’t talk about 2022 yet,” Pagenaud told Motorsport.com. “It’s about contracts, and there’s confidentiality agreements, so if I was to divulge anything I could be in serious trouble.

“And honestly, nothing is set. It’s still only early August, so I’m in ongoing discussions with Penske. I can’t explain those discussions, I can’t talk about the situation.

“I’m just trying to finish this season off as strong as I can do. That is my main focus at the moment.”

Asked if he could at least confirm that he was seeking a full-time IndyCar ride in 2022, Pagenaud replied, “With these confidentiality agreements, I can’t even say that. I cannot divulge anything.”

Pagenaud, who might have won the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans along with Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy had the Peugeot team given him fresh tires rather than fuel-only for the final stint, did admit that winning the biggest sportscar race in the world remains an ambition. He has competed there four times, and that year’s runner-up finish – just 13sec behind the winning Audi – remains the closest he has come to glory there.

“The only thing I can tell you is that it is one of my dreams of the future to go back to Le Mans and try to win the race,” he said. “Le Mans regulations for the future are very interesting and you see a lot of manufacturers going there now. So it is becoming more and more attractive for a lot of drivers.”

While Pagenaud’s IndyCar championship and Indy 500 success came in Chevrolet-powered Team Penske cars, he was a strong favorite at Honda/HPD. He drove Acura prototypes to nine wins in the American Le Mans Series, first with de Ferran Motorsports, then Highcroft Racing, and won the ALMS title with the latter.

He then scored his first four IndyCar wins in his three years with the Honda-powered Schmidt-Hamilton / Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team before switching to Penske for the 2015 season.

Asked if he could confirm either that Pagenaud is leaving Penske and/or if the team will be down to three IndyCars in 2022, team president Tim Cindric told Motorsport.com: “We haven’t finalized our 2022 plans and probably won’t until some time after the season is over.”

Pagenaud will next race a sportscar in October, sharing Action Express Racing’s ‘extra’ endurance-only Cadillac DPi-V.R with Jimmie Johnson and Kamui Kobayashi in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship finale at Petit Le Mans.

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