Jay Howard’s 2017 Indianapolis 500 will be remembered by many for the spectacular crash he was involved in with Scott Dixon on Lap 54. What many will forget about that race, and that month is the days leading up to the race, and what had transpired in the 53 laps before that infamous wreck.
Howard, who hadn’t competed in IndyCar since 2011, was signed on at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to team with James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin for the 101st Indianapolis 500.
For the British driver, it meant another chance with a team that had helped him reach some of his biggest milestones. It was also chance for the 2006 Indy Lights Champion to achieve the success in IndyCar that had alluded him early in his career.
In 2011, Howard and Rahal Letterman Racing announced they would team with Sam Schmidt Motorsports to enter the Indianapolis 500 and the twin races at Texas Motor Speedway.
After failing to qualify at Indy the previous year with Sarah Fisher Racing, he made the show and started 20th. The race would not end well for the team, as he crashed on Lap 61 and finished 30th.
The following year, things looked set for Howard to return to the speedway. A deal with Michael Shank Racing to run the 96th Indianapolis 500 was in place, but an engine never materialized and both were left on the outside looking in.
Three years later, Bryan Herta Autosport had announced their intentions to run Howard at Indianapolis, but funding fell through for that deal.
Fast forward to 2017 and Howard’s wait to return to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was over. On March 6, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced the driver would pilot the No. 77 car for the Indianapolis 500.
Despite being out of the series for nearly six years, Howard showed signs of promise early on, including running the fastest lap in practice on May 18, the last day before qualifying boost was implemented.
After a four-lap average speed of 229.414 MPH, the veteran driver started 20th. The race got off on a solid note for Howard and his team, as he worked his way up to 12th in the running order. After running out of fuel, Howard faded to the back of the field and began to experience electrical issues.
On Lap 54 Howard drifted into the marbles in the south chute, then bounced off the wall and collided with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
Dixon, who had started from pole, got airborne and made a violent impact with the infield catch fence.
Miraculously, both drivers walked away. In the aftermath of the crash, Howard drew the ire of several in the IndyCar community for his perceived role in the crash.
Nearly ten months after the accident, Howard was given another opportunity. On March 23, Howard was unveiled as the driver of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ third entry in the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Howard’s entry not only marks his return, but a return to the race for one of his team’s backers. Gary Peterson has added AFS Racing to the entry of the No. 7 OneCure Dallara-Honda.
Peterson, who was involved in this race most recently in 2017 with Juncos Racing and driver Sebastian Saavedra, expressed his excitement about the return.
“I look forward to continuing my history in INDYCAR thanks to a good friendship with SPM,” said Peterson in Tuesday’s press release announcing the partnership.
“Together, with Ric and Sam, we have a strong passion for the 500, and seeing my car be part of the 102nd running is very exciting. We have previously competed together with Martin Plowman and more recently, last season with Sebastian Saavedra. Based on that experience, I know what a quality program SPM has and how much they want to win.”
The effort got off to a promising start even before practice started on Tuesday. Howard was fastest in the May 1 Veteran Refresher session that also featured Sage Karam and Danica Patrick, with a best lap of 219.648 MPH.
When practice officially began on Tuesday, he again showed impressive speed. By day’s end, Howard was fourth-fastest of the day, with a best lap of 224.518 MPH and was the fastest of the SPM cars.
Day two of practice was another solid day, as Howard ended the day 15th in practice, running a best lap of 224.539 MPH.
“Two solid days for the One Cure car,” Howard noted after Wednesday’s practice.
“Just working through things with our race car, and I think, collectively as a team, we’re doing a good job. We will keep up the hard work and hopefully, we can stay up near the top half of the charts.”
After disappointing runs in the Indianapolis 500 in 2011 and 2018, Jay Howard is looking to make the most of another chance in the race.
Two strong days of practice will make him someone worth keeping an eye on as the week progresses.
Top Image Courtesy of Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR Media.