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Shank relishes Petit Le Mans comeback victory in last IMSA race with Acura

Meyer Shank Racing got the proper sendoff after coming from behind to win Petit Le Mans in the team’s last IMSA race for the foreseeable future.

#60 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06: Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves

#60 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06: Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves

Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Penalties were handed out like candy on Halloween and MSR were not excluded from race control’s justice. Additionally, at one point, the #60 Acura ARX-06 was two laps down following contact with another competitor that required an extended pit stop to replace a toe link.

The combination of Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun and Helio Castroneves continued to chip away as other GTP rivals dropped out. Sitting eighth – the final spot in class among those still running – with two hours to go, Blomqvist was struggling to keep pace on a set of older tyres and attempting to stretch the energy.

However, a pit stop for a driver change amid a flurry of yellows saw Blomqvist handoff to Braun, who was equipped with fresh tyres and energy and sent off.

With one hour to go, a crash involving the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura put all the players in a frenzy of strategy, which Braun took advantage of by staying out and vaulting up to second.

On the ensuing restart with 30 minutes to go, Braun was able to pull off a herculean move on the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R of Renger van der Zande entering Turn 1 and holding firm until a late caution in the final minutes sealed the victory.

“With around two hours to go, we were P-last,” co-team owner Mike Shank told Autosport.

“Tom Blomqvist's last stint, we made a mistake and we really hurt him. I feel terrible that we didn't put tyres on when we should have. He had just super old tyres and we went backwards, and I thought we were done. We just literally ruined our race and put Tom in a horrible position.

“But what's funny is it actually ended up setting us up and we were able to take advantage of that mistake, I guess you'd call it. It started that progression of things to get to where we were at the end, which was we were ahead on fuel and energy, and we could make it. And we did.”

#60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian, Acura ARX-06, GTP: (left to right) Mike Shank, Helio Castroneves, Colin Braun, Tom Blomqvist

#60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian, Acura ARX-06, GTP: (left to right) Mike Shank, Helio Castroneves, Colin Braun, Tom Blomqvist

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

The result bookended a season for MSR after winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January – where both driver and team were docked 200 points due to tyre data manipulation. The team also won at Mosport in July.

In the end, the combination of Blomqvist and Braun finished third in the overall standings, just 22 points behind the #31 Action Express Racing duo of Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims for the GTP title.

“I told them everything that happened this year was not their fault,” Shank said. “I told them to act like champions and said, 'Hey double check everything you do today. Let's go out on top.' And that's exactly what happened. How can I possibly be unhappy about it? Everyone says that, but my guys actually do it.”

Shank also shared the fallout of the infraction also brought social media abuse that was directed at his family, along with team co-owner Jim Meyer.

“Even through the crap we've been through and the abuse we've taken online; my family, my wife, my partner, the abuse we took online was uncalled for,” Shank said. “It's just horrible. It just feels good. It feels really good to come out and the people at HPD, the Honda Racing division that helped us get this Acura going. It's just an unbelievably big effort.”

There was never a desire to leave IMSA, which is why the plan to return is sooner rather than later but only under specific requirements. 

"When we come back, I can tell you I only want to do it right,” Shank said. “Meaning an OEM programme that I can have pro drivers and the people I want in the programme. That's the way we're going to do it. If not, then I'll just double down on my IndyCar team, and I'm fine with life. So, we're going to take our time and savour this a little bit."

#60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian, Acura ARX-06, GTP: Colin Braun, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves

#60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian, Acura ARX-06, GTP: Colin Braun, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Although the team celebrated a special victory, it was also a bittersweet evening as the car, after being sent through technical inspection, was being packed up and sent directly to Wayne Taylor Racing, who will expand to a two-car program in 2024.

“No one knows that that car is going to Wayne Taylor Racing tonight, literally,” Shank said “So, it's not a fun night for us. It is on the one hand, obviously, but on the other hand, it's just the way our world works sometimes.”

During the post-race press conference, Blomqvist, who is switching full-time to Shank’s IndyCar program next year, offered up his take of events of the season that concluded with the 10-hour season finale.

“Good things happen to good guys, and I think this couldn't be more true,” Blomqvist said. “We've won three races this year. Obviously, we don't have a championship, but I couldn't be prouder and at the same time grateful to have spent these last two seasons with this team.

“We've done a lot together, won some good races. It's just such a good team atmosphere and it's like a family. They work hard. They never give up.

“At one point there it had looked like our race was done with about two hours ago. When I jumped out of the car, we were dying out there on some pretty old tyres. But the guys never gave up and some things came our way.

“We capitalised on that, specifically Colin. Those restarts, he has been phenomenal all year on those cold tyres. I think no one likes those cold tyre restarts, but he does. He was the right guy in the car there at that right time. ...

“It's just been an absolutely fantastic day to see the emotion on everyone's face within the team when we get a result like this, when everyone knows it's basically the last race and they're not coming back next year. That was really special and cool to see.”

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