At the end of not one but two successive seasons, Jack Harvey found himself watching from the second step of the season-ending podium as another driver took the Mazda scholarship prize package that would propel him into a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But because of that history and the experiences gained from spending 2014 and 2015 in the ladder system, Harvey remains an enthusiastic proponent of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. The 24-year-old joins fellow Indy Lights graduate Zach Veach and 2016 Indy Lights champion Ed Jones in the 2017 Indy 500 rookie class alongside two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, and he continues to express his gratitude for the opportunities the series gave him to show what he can do on a stage of this magnitude.
That Harvey, as well as Veach, have reached this point without the benefit of the scholarship program holds a small measure of satisfaction for the young Brit, as he joins the Michael Shank Racing/Andretti Autosport effort at the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500.
“The best thing about the Mazda Road to Indy is knowing it’s an opportunity to showcase what you can do in front of the people who will matter most,” said Harvey. “I know Zach worked so hard to get where he is, as did I to be here with the team who has won here four times.”
Harvey began karting at the age of 9, working his way through the British junior ranks and racking up no fewer than 10 British and European titles. Moving into formula cars in 2009, Harvey won the 2012 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series title and earned two victories on the 2013 GP3 circuit before turning his attention stateside in 2014.
Joining Indy Lights with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Harvey finished the season with four wins (in the final five races), four poles and 10 top-three results, never finishing outside the top five – only to finish tied on points and lose out on the title to Gabby Chaves. His efforts earned Harvey the Earl Howe Trophy from the British Racing Drivers Club, an annual award to the highest-placed British driver in the Indianapolis 500 or to the British driver who has established the most meritorious performance of the year in North America.
Returning to the series in 2015, Harvey again had a stellar year, taking two wins, three poles and the win of a lifetime – the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But when the season ended he again found himself in the second spot, this time to four-time Mazda scholarship winner Spencer Pigot. Harvey remained on the Mazda Road to Indy, coaching the Schmidt Peterson drivers in 2016 and working with Carlin’s Neil Alberico this season, all the while working hard at making his ultimate dream come true: a ride in the Indianapolis 500. His toils paid off last month, when he was announced as the driver of the No. 50 Dallara Honda, with backing from Auto Nation, Sirius XM Radio and Gap Guard.
Now that he has passed his rookie orientation and is a full-fledged driver heading to the 101st Indianapolis 500, Harvey finds it a particular badge of honor that he has made it to the pinnacle of the sport despite not winning the Mazda scholarship.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t on the winning end of getting a drive,” said Harvey, “but what’s nice for me, and for Zach as well, is that we showed that we could drive at this level. This shows that even though we didn’t win the Mazda scholarship, we can still work hard and get here. That sends an important message: there is only one winner of the championship and the scholarship – and we did enough in both 2014 and 2015 but we didn’t win – so it’s nice to be able to keep progressing without that.
“The Mazda Road to Indy gave me a great foundation to move forward,” continued Harvey. “I’ve driven a lot of the tracks the IndyCar guys go to and a variety of disciplines, whether it be street courses, road courses or ovals. I’ve been successful on all of them. We know we can deliver a good result because we’ve done it already. (Andersen Promotions owner) Dan Andersen, with Mazda’s John Doonan, have created a very efficient ladder to IndyCar. It says it all right there in the name. That sounds like a cliché, but there’s nothing like this in the world.”
While this week did not quite start out as planned for the Shank/Andretti team, with a practice crash on Monday due to a steering column malfunction that delayed his completion of rookie orientation, Harvey feels the team has turned a corner and will come to the weekend’s qualifying days in good shape.
“I’ve been lucky to have always had a good car here in Indy Lights. We didn’t start out that way this week but we changed a few things and the car was quite quick by Tuesday afternoon. The balance in the whole car felt so much better so quickly once we got things figured out. It’s so dramatic and drastic, how different the car is now compared to where we started. I feel comfortable about qualifying now.”
Harvey’s victory in the Freedom 100 was only two years ago, and that memory still burns in his mind – and it’s one he can well envision repeating, albeit on a much bigger stage.
“I’ve kissed the bricks once and I’d like to do it again! That whole experience, driving here twice and winning two years ago, it taught me so much. It’s such a unique oval so having won here shows us that we can be competitive here. We are hopeful to be competitive through the month and my hope is to be able to really contribute to the team. The 500 is a single event for me but it’s part of the championship for Andretti Autosport, so to showcase what I can do for them is key. Doing Indy Lights and winning the Freedom 100 has given me the foundation to go and achieve something in IndyCar.
“It’s not just the driver who’s affected by all these things: it’s everyone who’s involved. There is a great family feel on the Mazda Road to Indy and I’m very happy to finish this journey with everyone.”