INDIANAPOLIS – After two years of nearly winning the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship, Jack Harvey has finally made it to his dream – the Indianapolis 500. Mazda, sponsors a program to help open wheel drivers reach their ultimate dream by climbing the ladder of the support series’ and eventually make it to the top in a Verizon IndyCar Series ride. The USF 2000 champion get a scholarship to race in the Pro Mazda Series the next season. The Pro Mazda champion earns a scholarship to race in Indy Lights, while the Indy Lights champion gets a three-race IndyCar deal with one of those races being the Indy 500.
Well, Harvey, 24, was nearly an Indy Lights champion as a rookie in 2014. He won four of the final five races and made it a tie for the championship. He didn’t just tie Gabby Chaves for the title, he even tied him with the second tiebreaker, wins in the season with four. He would lose out on the title and $1-million scholarship due to second place finishes. Chaves had five to Harvey’s one.
Harvey, came back the next season with a purpose, win the title and graduate up to an IndyCar ride for 2016. Again, he came up just short finishing second in the final standings by just 27 points. He would win two races that year, both at Indy, one on the road course the other in the Freedom 100, but once again, he came up just shy of automatically getting at least a three-race IndyCar deal.
Two seasons, 30 career starts, six victories, 18 podiums, 26 top fives and 29 top 10’s. He proved he was ready. But, in a dog-eat-dog kind of world, without the proper funding, he wouldn’t have an IndyCar ride waiting for him. He’s as talented as anyone and deserved a shot, unfortunately, that guaranteed shot slipped away two straight years by the narrowest margins.
“You want to win the championship because you want to be known as a champion, a small part of history even though it’s on a lesser scale, you still want to be a champion at the of the day,” Harvey told me in an exclusive interview for Race Review Online regarding how tough it was to miss out on the Mazda Road to Indy chance. “I think moving into 2016, without the scholarship money, it’s just another big hole that you’re trying to fill. The whole Mazda Road to Indy program is doing a fantastic favor honesty to all young drivers at the moment. For Spencer (Pigot) last year to know he’s going to get the ‘500 and two other races, was amazing. Yes, of course I was devastated obviously not to be that person getting that opportunity, but in the same breath it’s nice to see that program work.
“It just kind of sucks when it’s not you.
“The year before I tied on points with Gabby (Chaves), so for two years in-a-row, I can’t say what I was thinking, but I was in pinching distance. I feel in 2015 at least, we did everything we needed to do to win, I think a few things happened towards the end of the season I still don’t agree with. I just try to leave it in the past now and having got this deal sorted knowing that I’m going to race in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 kind of takes the sting off of that. It would have been nice to do it last year too, but I’m here now trying to do the best I can.”
Harvey, originally was supposed to run in a third Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports entry. He had the funding set up and was going to race at Indy this May with a team that he had all of that success with in Indy Lights. They were close to an announcement.
Then, Tony Stewart dashed it. Yes, the same Tony Stewart.
“It’s no secret how the deal happened,” Harvey told me. “I’ve had a great relationship with Sam Schmidt, who’ve I raced Indy Lights with, but then Tony Stewart came around and brought with Jay Howard with him, there was now no seat there for me. Then, it came to a what do we do now?”
That’s where Andretti Autosport comes in.
“That was awesome, obviously that opportunity came with them and they asked do you think you can get to this number and I said yeah I think we can,” Harvey continued. “The opportunity came to Andretti originally, and we kind of jumped on it. When a team that has won two of the last three times and Andretti is one of the most, if not the most world famous motorsport names in the world, from Mario to Michael to Marco and I’m sure it’s a name that’s just going to keep around. It created an exciting buzz.”
With coming to Andretti, as well as another rookie in Fernando Alonso, it created a partnership with sports car owner Michael Shank. It’s one that Harvey sees as a perfect match and one that has already sprouted to a deep friendship.
“Fernando (Alonso) came on board and I then got the opportunity to work with Michael Shank, I was very excited about that,” Harvey beamed of working with Shank. “I know what good sports car program he runs. He’s had a massive drive to be a part of the Indianapolis 500, so I was mega excited to know he’s going to be joining my team of people. Both of our dreams have kind of been the same to get to this kind of level. We’re going to go through the motions, but already I’m texting him when something happens like did you see that? Both of us don’t fan girl out about anything yet but you can see that we kind of got a really good rapport, he’s excited, I’m excited, I can’t wait.”
I asked Harvey if this year’s ‘500 is virtually a glorified job interview and if the potential of more races with Andretti or Shank or a combo of both could occur in the future.
“Yeah I guess, that’s a good way to look at it,” said a smiling Harvey in response to the question. “I mean honestly my goal was to try to do such a good job that my team wanted me to come back, Michael wanted me to come back and my sponsors wanted me to come back and are happy. This is very much a case-by-case deal, if asked about it I’d look to do it. Things will happen afterward but we will have to wait and see how they will play out. Which pieces fall, which pieces don’t fall, the ones that don’t are they fixable? It’s a good opportunity for me to go and showcase a good result and it’s a good opportunity for him to do the same. If the opportunity came to do that, I would jump at it.”
The best part though, a deal could come because of how talented Harvey is, and how good of a program Andretti Autosport has for rookies.
Previously, Andretti has brought five rookies for their first try at the Indianapolis 500, and four of those five would go on to finish in the top 10. The only one who didn’t?
Wheldon though, would end up winning two ‘500’s, his first one two years after his Andretti debut with the same Andretti team in 2005.
Hideki Mutoh finished seventh in his Indy debut in 2008, Carlos Munoz second in 2013, while Kurt Busch came home sixth in 2014. Last year, Alexander Rossi actually won in his rookie try, and now, Harvey and Alonso will hope their fate ends up the same way.
“I think that was one of the main reasons we were so excited about going with Andretti,” Harvey said of joining Andretti as a rookie. “They’ve been introducing good rookies every year basically. I know Townsend (Bell) wasn’t a rookie last year, but he was competitive all month. That’s what was so exciting about this deal. Right now, do I expect to go win the race, no I don’t expect to go with the race. If the opportunity was there to win the race, would I take it, yes of course. Right now, if we were in the top 10 and ran well there or what not, that would be amazing. There’s six Andretti cars we’re hoping that are going to be fast. You have Penske cars you know are going to be fast, four Ganassi cars, Schmidt always runs well here, there’s a lot of good cars. To be in the top 15 is going to take a lot of effort and hard work.”
Overall, Harvey is just so proud of the opportunity and his accomplishments, and excited to be announced as a starter in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/ABC/INDYCAR Radio Network) on Sunday May 28 in front of 300,000+ fans.
“It’s something I’ve thought about, and not tried to think about because I would get a bit nervous in that moment,” Harvey told me about being introduced in front of a packed house at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Some of these things are so new to me. For me, it’s an extremely proud moment.
“From nine-years old I started go-karting, to kind of get to this point, is something I hoped would happen, but I’ve never been so bold to say it would because I never knew was was around the corner. Obviously I’m super super happy to what we’ve been able to achieve. Proud of who’s helped me get to this point, certainly this has been an incredible team effort. I’m really excited.