The data on tire pressure collected by IMSA and Michelin was manipulated to cover up the Rolex 24-winning Meyer Shank team using lower tire pressures than recommended by the tire maker.
It’s a distinct advantage and penalized with a drive-through penalty if discovered during a race by IMSA through telemetry.
Who knew, who signed off on the cheating, and what other races did the team try manipulating tire air pressure data are among the many lingering questions.
The case of the circumvention of the tire pressure rules by Meyer Shank Racing in this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona is bumfuzzling.
More questions remain than answers after the severe points and financial penalties by IMSA as well as the disbarring of race engineer Ryan McCarthy. At the top of the list—was the risk of getting caught worth it?
The facts are that the data on tire pressure collected by IMSA and Michelin was manipulated to cover up the Meyer Shank team using lower tire pressures than recommended by the tire maker. It’s a distinct advantage and penalized with a drive-through penalty if discovered during a race by IMSA through telemetry.
The questions start with how long has this been going on? The discovery taints not only the victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the result in last year’s 24-hour as well as the victory in the season-ending Petit Le Mans last year, where Meyer Shank clinched the DPi WeatherTech Championship.
Any driver will tell you leaving the pits in a prototype car on cold tires is treacherous. If the tires are at a lower pressure, it makes the task somewhat easier, not to mention the possibility of faster lap times. If you start the stint with lower pressure, then the pressures remain relatively lower for the duration of a stint. This brings to mind Helio Castroneves’ final stint at Daytona in 2022 and the winning final stint of Tom Blomqvist at the Petit. Nothing builds confidence in a driver than knowing they have an advantage not available to the other drivers.
To confine the discussion to this year’s Rolex 24, where the Acura of Meyer Shank led almost twice as many laps as the next closest competitor, did the drivers know? Of course. The guys preparing the tires in the pits had to know as well. It’s not too far a leap from there to the team owner, Mike Shank, a hands-on guy and, as the episode with the leaking seal in transmission demonstrated, an avowed risk taker.
Perhaps they all thought that the tire pressures would quickly come up to a legal pressure and that if IMSA didn’t catch it they would be gaining a little bit of a racer’s edge. If caught, there would be a mid-race penalty and perhaps an election to stop trying to get that edge. But the fly in the ointment was McCarthy’s manipulation of the race data collection that allowed the team to escape detection—not by flying under the radar but by jamming it. This would explain why IMSA has banned McCarthy, who was fired by Shank.
This scenario also probably explains how word got out and why there was a post-race review of the data system long after the checkered flag fell. If key players at Meyer Shank knew, then the “cold tire strategy” of just getting out of the pits and quickly coming up to a legal pressure was probably shared somewhere along the line to drivers or crew members on another team. (But it’s doubtful the info eventually slipped out to, say, Cadillac, which was penalized twice at the Petit Le Mans for low tire pressures.)
It shapes up that somebody on the competing Acura team of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport got the info. Thinking it would all be a matter of intramurals between the two factory teams, perhaps an inquiry was made at Honda Performance Development. From there it went to IMSA officials, who responded with a harsh penalty after an investigation.
Because the discovery was not made as the race progressed or before all the cars left the track, the penalty encompassed just about everything but the winner’s trophy and the Rolex watches handed out to winning drivers Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.
The penalties were not exactly a slap on the wrist:
Loss of 200 team and driver IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship points, which dropped the team and its drivers from first to last (ninth) in the GTP class championship standings.
Loss of all team and driver IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup points.
Loss of race prize money.
Team receives a $50,000 fine.
Team and Entrant representative Mike Shank placed on probation through June 30, 2023.
Revocation of IMSA annual credential and indefinite suspension of IMSA membership for team engineer Ryan McCarthy.
The entire enterprise of the new GTP era, anticipated to boost IMSA to heights not seen previously, rests on a cooperative digital platform. It is likely David Salters, president of HPD, recognized this was more than a fly in the ointment and had to be addressed.
Could the Meyer Shank team have won the race without an illegal advantage? Well, the runner-up was another Acura. So, the obvious answer is yes. On the question of why racers tend to cheat, well, choose your options.
There’s an inherent desire to beat City Hall, i.e. the sanctioning body, as well as the other competitors. Taking that a step further, perhaps McCarthy wanted to sole satisfaction of taking everybody for a ride, including his team, with a secret system. Maybe he liked the role of being the hero within his team for successfully taking the risk to slip by on the rules—without sharing that he was making sure it worked by manipulation of the data.
For those who aren’t buying this lone rogue theory, well it doesn’t stand to reason that word would eventually slip out unless it was regarded as a typical case of finding an edge—subject to a mid-race penalty—as opposed to blatant cheating. But it is entirely possible, on the other hand, that what was shared was the fact the data system was being manipulated and everyone at Meyer Shank knew and one guy took the fall in addition to the penalties in the points for the team and drivers. Racers are often fond of asking for forgiveness later.
It will go down as one of those asterisk moments. And, one hopes, a future warning.