Meyer Shank Racing driver Jack Harvey is no stranger to success, so to find out he has an exemplary track record racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway comes as no surprise.
While some may view his 31st-place finish last year at the Indianapolis 500 and his part-time ride with MSR’s fledgling IndyCar program as disqualifications to win this year’s race, savvy followers of the 25-year-old’s career would know better to count out this dark horse on May 27.
Arriving to the United States to race Indy Lights in 2014, Harvey was already an established open-wheel racer by winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 2012 with Carlin and a multi-race winner in GP3 with ART Grand Prix.
In two seasons with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indy Lights program, Harvey turned in two runner-up finishes in the Indy Lights championship while winning six races and collecting 18 podium finishes. Out of those outstanding results, more than a few fond memories came at the “World’s Greatest Race Course” in Speedway, Indiana.
Making his debut at the historic speedway in 2014, Harvey finished third in race one of the Indy Lights Indianapolis Grand Prix. The very next day in race two, the Brit notched a runner-up finish to cap a stellar weekend.
Just two weeks later, he qualified on the outside of the front row for the Freedom 100 before finishing a respectable 5th, an average finish of 3.33 over the 3 races.
The next year, Harvey made the Speedway his own. Back with SPM in Indy Lights, Harvey won the first race of the road course weekend from the pole while capping round two of the event with a top-five finish. He returned to the Freedom 100 later in the month to again qualify 2nd for the biggest Indy Lights race of the year.
This time he won the race, clinching victory while leading Ethan Ringel (who set the then-track record while clinching pole) when a yellow came out for Ed Jones’ accident in Turn 4.
In two years of running Indy Lights at the Speedway on both the road course and the oval, Harvey had picked up two victories and four podium finishes en route to a 2.83 average finish.
In making his maiden Indianapolis 500 start last year for Michael Shank Racing in affiliation Andretti Autosport, Harvey was settling into the race in 25th when Conor Daly’s accident forced him into a predicament that placed the No. 50 Honda into the infield barrier and out of the race.
Setting the disappointment of 2017’s race aside, Harvey has reason for optimism given his track record at the Speedway in top-level machines. Experience and lessons learned from last May will certainly help this year, Harvey persists.
“When I was in (Indy) Lights, I had a good car,” Harvey said. “Knowing I had a good car put me in a good situation even though it was my first time racing at the Speedway (in 2014). That allowed me to focus on my driving instead of the other bits and bobs that were happening at the same time.
“It isn’t something to dwell on, but last year we experienced a bad May, not through my fault or the team’s fault, it was just how it went. What it does do, is allow you to appreciate when something good happens so you can keep calm and keep working hard to find what’s missing. You still are happy because it’s not where it was. The secret to being fast here is still being worked on. Even though I was fast here in Lights, I am still working on it in IndyCar as a work in progress.”
While the Harvey and his Shank crew were huddled up with Andretti Autosport in 2017, this year they are in an alliance with Harvey’s old Indy Lights friends at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Working with each group, Harvey has been able to pick the brain of some well-respected drivers in the IndyCar paddock.
“I learned a lot from all of the guys last year at Andretti,” the Honda driver recalled. “Marco (Andretti) was especially helpful if I had questions, explaining what to expect and how it’s going to feel. He was awesome with that. All of the guys were great. This year, James (Hinchcliffe) is the only one with a lot of experience so we go to him, and he must really get sick of us. Even Robbie (Wickens) as a rookie, is a really smart guy and when we talk about the changes we trust his feedback.”
That feedback and insight is invaluable for a driver still learning the ropes of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an IndyCar on the oval. Driving in the Indianapolis 500 (and all of the preparation that comes with it) is placing your car on the razor’s edge each lap trying to make any gains possible. It is one of the things that Harvey and many others enjoy about the grand old track.
“Drivers are a weird group of people because it is enjoyable and fun to go 220 plus miles per hour. If you have a mistake, you have no time to react which cannot be fun but exciting,” Harvey infers. “We are all weird creatures who enjoy pushing and being on the edge of what we have and that is especially true here at IMS more than anywhere else.
“Every small tweak can make the biggest difference. So if we can go a little bit here and there than anything little can help the end result.”
In the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Harvey had worked all the way up to 6th place (from a 19th-place starting position) by lap 39 only to have his day ended with a tire failure that sent his No. 60 AutoNation Honda into the retaining wall.
For his second and most recent Verizon IndyCar Series start, Harvey picked up a career-best finish in series competition by placing 12th after starting the race 17th.
The results seem to be coming, slowly, to this Meyer/Shank-led operation and they may be a dark horse contender for a top-10 finish for this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Internally, expectations may be rising a bit for this month of May compared to the last, though Harvey wants nothing more than a clean month and letting the chips fall where they may.
“I always find it hard to find a definitive number for what can be considered a successful month,” Harvey said. “If I say I want to finish in the top-15 and we finish 16th, then by that definition that isn’t a great month. Honestly, to see the checkered flag and put on a strong performance would be a great day in my mind.
“Come the end of Friday and seeing how qualification trims (out) will be interesting. I am not worried about tow-times, I am focused on how the car is in traffic and when I am on my own.
“When we have a better handling on that then we will have a better understanding of where we think we might be for the rest of the month.”
By our estimation, the entire organization is gaining a better handle on this month of May circus that is the Indianapolis 500 and Harvey has been in the middle of that from the start.
No longer an Indy 500 rookie, look for Harvey and Co. to make a little more noise this May than most of the pundits are suggesting. With sports betting now legal in many states around America, you would be silly to go against him.
Images courtesy of Chris Owens/INDYCAR Media.