IndyCar

How results are masking a surprise IndyCar standout

Sep 8 2020
By Jack Benyon

While Carlos Sainz scored a stunning second at Monza to claim his best Formula 1 result of his career so far, a driver who beat him multiple times over a championship season in junior formulae, Jack Harvey, heads into this weekend’s IndyCar race a disappointing 13th in the IndyCar standings. However, what if I told you he should be well inside the top 10, and on merit?

The 2012 British F3 champion Harvey has a very familiar story to many in motorsport; talented and relatively skint. With the help of the Racing Steps Foundation he was able to forge a career in some major european junior championships before switching to Indy Lights from GP3 in 2014 with an eye on establishing a career Stateside.

Formula Bmw Europe 2010, Rd 01 & 02, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Podium

Following two runners-up finishes in Indy Lights, Harvey finally got a partial IndyCar deal together for 2017 after a year on the sidelines, but 2020 signals the first time the talented driver has a full-season schedule.

When you look at the results, Harvey is five points from matching his tally from last season, where he scored 186 points over 10 races. Over nine races in 2020, he has 181 points, so there doesn’t appear to be much progression there.

But commit to that view and you’d be grossly misunderstanding the 2020 IndyCar season and in particular, how good Harvey and the Meyer Shank Racing team he drives for have been.

Texas, the season opener, was a cluster-expletive for everyone, given that practice, qualifying and the race were squeezed into one day, at a track Harvey had never raced at before. That was never going to produce a top result and the team settled for 16th, finishing the race lapping at a top-10 level.

2016 Indycar Indianapolis Championship Awards Banque

On the Indianapolis road course, Harvey was narrowly pipped to pole by Will Power but was third before a caution came out and ruined the frontrunners’ races. A top five was on there, he was third before the caution.

At the Road America double-header Harvey was again in a top-five position all day before a weird brake failure at Turn 3 took him out of race one. He was then taken out by Santino Ferrucci at the start of the second encounter, where he’d qualified ninth.

Iowa was a welcome surprise as another track he hadn’t contested IndyCar in, and he delivered a pair of sevenths in the double-header before a ninth-place finish in his fourth Indianapolis 500.

A caution again ruined what had been a top-five run in the first race at Gateway, before what was self-admittedly a poor strategy call not deserving of the team’s form yielded 13th to conclude the last race weekend before now.

Ntt Indycar Series 104th Running Of The Indianapolis 500

Here’s how you’d modify the championship standings with a magic wand:

Indianapolis road course: 17th becomes fifth (ill-timed caution)
Road America race one: 23rd becomes fifth (brake problem)
Road America race two: 17th becomes ninth (crashed into at the start)
Gateway race one: 11th becomes fifth (ill-timed caution)

Adjusting for the above, that would put Harvey ahead of Simon Pagenaud, sixth in the points standings.

OK, I’m not declaring that’s where Harvey should be as ill-timed cautions are part of the IndyCar game, and of course there are other drivers who have suffered similar situations. But when you adjust for the sheer amount of misfortune Harvey has had combined together, there’s a big difference between a car and driver worthy of sixth-ish in the points and 13th!

To further qualify the point, Harvey’s average start is ninth, and after Texas, he’s qualified second, second, ninth, ninth, sixth, 20th, seventh and fifth.

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Perhaps the Indianapolis road course provides the perfect cross-section for Harvey and Meyer Shank’s season.

“The qualifying lap, it’s probably one of the better laps that I’ve ever driven,” Harvey tells The Race.

“Will Power just doing Will Power things, he just did this absolutely awesome lap – not out of nowhere because he was fast all weekend – but that laptime, at that stage of qualifying, was just ballistically fast.

“We were third at the time of the caution in the race, right behind Josef [Newgarden]. I think there’s a few other people who were on a good strategy that might have been there. I thought that was going to be a top five for us probably. I think if everything had gone really well we might have been on the podium, I don’t think we were going to be any worse than fifth.

“Josef undercut us in the pits, so we dropped to third from second. After that, that yellow just just completely destroyed our race.

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“So Indy was again, one of those weekends where you’re like, ‘loads of really good things just no end result’. And I think that has really been the story of our season.”

The brake issue at Road America is another example of the peculiarity of the #60 car’s season.

“If it went green all the way to the end, I think we were going to finish fifth,” Harvey says, contemplating Road America.

“Then you look at it and go – well that’s two top fives [with the previous race at the Indianapolis road course] that we’ve somehow not been able to get.

“It was a super random part on the brakes. We spoke with the PFC [IndyCar brakes supplier Performance Friction Corp] after, they’ve never seen that happen before. I’ve never had it happen before. So you leave that weekend with another front row start, another top five opportunity with nothing to show for it. But you keep rallying.”

All Harvey and Meyer Shank have done in 2020 is rally. But there have been some highlights with three consecutive top-10s spanning the Iowa double-header and the Indy 500, the latter where the team had started 20th in a race that was tough to overtake but also not friendly to trying different strategies to move forward. The squad still managed it and showed what they can do at a place they do have the experience.

The minnow Michael Shank squad has never been an established IndyCar team in terms of racing a full season. Wheeling and dealing, Mike Shank has delivered some gut-punching performances over the years, but usually in the Indy 500 or on one-off outings.

For 2020, the squad ended a two-year relationship with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and inked a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport – rejoining the team it had co-entered Harvey with in the 2017 Indy 500. With Schmidt Peterson switching to Chevrolet and taking on McLaren backing for 2020, it was a no-brainer to go with Andretti for Meyer Shank, and a new era begun. Albeit, in the worst possible circumstances for a small team, attempting to weather the woe of COVID-19 and its implications on sporting and business life.

What came with that move was a relatively inexperienced team, combined with an inexperienced driver, doing races the team had never done before complete with a new partnership with a much bigger team in an awful world climate.

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When you consider there’s three Penske cars, three from Ganassi and five from Andretti at most races, breaking into the top 10 for a smaller team is no mean feat and that has been achieved on multiple occasions this year – and should’ve been achieved on many more.

However, doing that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the Andretti tie-up, even if the team has outperformed many of the Andretti regulars this year and could be fighting its top driver Colton Herta if the standings were adjusted as suggested earlier. The Andretti tie-up has helped, but hasn’t simply gifted the Meyer Shank outfit its performance. It’s been earned.

“I’m really, really happy with the progression that we as a team have made, that I have made as a driver,” said Harvey.

“But also what our technical partnership with Andretti has provided too. Just a lot of really good things. I think that’s why in general, we have a lot more pace, this year. On the whole, the potential of our team has gone from just trying to creep into the top 10 to battling for top fives and podiums and if you’re doing that then you can’t help but feel like a win is on the horizon.

Spacesuit Media Andy Clary 197821

“I’m grateful to everybody at what is now Arrow McLaren SP for what they did through Indy Lights and the partnership we’ve had with them in IndyCar and they’re having a great season.

“But I felt like for Meyer Shank Racing, making a change to Andretti was a really good thing that has been very beneficial and it’s a relationship that we hope will carry on and continue beyond the length of this current contract.

“Everybody is doing so many good things, we just haven’t had the end result yet and, like I said to the guys, we can’t become desperate in search of it because desperation breeds all sorts of problems on its own. It’s a case of, we keep learning, we keep chipping away, we keep improving, and we just keep that model going.”

Trying to explain why the team is doing a lot better than it reads on paper has taken a patient reader to get this far down. Is a sponsor going to do the same when evaluating Harvey’s season? It’s a tricky one.

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There’s a couple of big positives though. The first is that the pace is there, and the team isn’t lucking itself into the top 10. The second is that the operation has a two-year deal between team, driver and Andretti. And the third is that Andretti has had a poor season and has some ageing drivers who are going to have to move aside at some point. The Andretti engineering debriefs include Meyer Shank and Harvey, so data is shared and Andretti is learning a lot about Harvey – something that may well shape his future years.

For now Harvey is happy to splendour in the fact that he doesn’t have to beg, borrow and steal to get onto a grid next year.

“This is probably the one off-season right now that we don’t have to worry about next year, and like I said to the guys, that shouldn’t breed any complacency for anyone,” Harvey adds.

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“It should be the opposite, it should be ‘we really need to start getting the results, so that we make our lives easier come the next round of negotiations’. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to not have to deal with it for one off-season. Even before when I was with RSF, they were one-year rolling deals, it was never a two-year deal.

“I’ve already been through that, you know, not knowing what to expect, what’s going to happen and who do we have to convince this is a good thing etc, etc. And it’s draining, it really is draining.

“I think the reason we wanted to have such a good year and, obviously – there’s still time to finish off the year strong and get some good results – especially when it’s next year because honestly I hope this time next year, our stuff is sorted.

“Signed, sealed, delivered before the season finishes and what’s going to get us to that is progression again even from where we are now. And good results, because you can be the nicest guy in the pitlane but it’s a results-driven industry and a results-driven world.

Spacesuit Media Andy Clary 196064

“There’s no element of complacency or frustration. We just want to keep improving, so that when those things come next year in terms of the stress of trying to get the next deal sorted and stuff like that – we’ve had some better results to hang our hat on that take a little bit of that stress and pressure away.”

With Mid-Ohio coming up this weekend, it gives Harvey another chance – for the fourth time this year – to return to a track he’s raced at in IndyCar before despite having never done a full-season. Last year he took his last of three 10th place finishes there, beaten only by his brilliant podium on the IndyCar road course.

Make no mistake, he and the Meyer Shank outfit deserve to be much higher up. But they also can’t afford to not deliver on their pace forever. A breakthrough is needed, and Mid-Ohio could be just the place for it.

If it isn’t, there’s a double-header on the Indianapolis road course to follow, and St Petersburg where the squad raced to 10th last year. Not a bad couple of tracks to end the season for this team and driver.

Ntt Indycar Series Rev Group Grand Prix

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