SEBRING. Florida – Jack Harvey credits “some Spanish geezer” – he says that with a wry smile and utmost respect – for a deal that put him back on track today.
Yes, he means Fernando Alonso. And he means it as a compliment.
When Alonso decided to compete in the Indianapolis 500 last year with Andretti Autosport, Harvey – who was prepared to drive the team’s No. 29 car that Alonso stepped into instead – was moved to a car fielded by a collaboration of Andretti Autosport and Michael Shank Racing.
Today, Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports debuted its No. 60 AutoNation Sirius XM Honda with Harvey behind the wheel for the first time in the new universal aero kit during team testing at Sebring International Raceway with most of the rest of this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series field. The deal wouldn’t have happened, Harvey joked, had Alonso not joined him as an Indy 500 rookie last year. In a domino effect, it put Harvey in touch with Shank.
“We developed a good relationship,” said Harvey, the two-time Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires runner-up. “I like how his team operates. I fit in straight away with all the guys. … It all came about because mutual people had mutual goals and respect for each other. It was a natural fit, really, for everybody. Michael seemed keen to do it, and Sam (Schmidt) seemed keen to do it. I’m beyond thrilled that we actually put it together.”
As for the new car, Harvey was equally thrilled. He turned his first laps this morning on Sebring’s short course and liked what he felt.
“I like the car,” said the 24-year-old Harvey, who enters his second season in the Verizon IndyCar Series after three races in 2017. “Initially, you can feel it has less downforce than before. It feels fast and still feels like an Indy car. The changes are significant but not completely drastic. It’s got a little less braking capacity than we had before. The initial hit feels good, but the time in which it slows down doesn’t feel as good. They’ve reduced the downforce significantly, so that was to be expected.”
Harvey wasn’t alone in his unfamiliarity with the new kit. Kyle Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights champion, experienced his first laps on a road course in the No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, also giving it a positive reaction.
“I didn’t really have any preconceived notion coming in to this car because I never got to drive the old car,” said Kaiser, who competed in the Phoenix open test earlier this month on the ISM Raceway short oval. “I feel like in moving from (Indy) Lights to this, I’m adapting to a lot more than just differences. I’m adapting to the actual speed. The differences between Indy Lights and INDYCAR – the speed, the tires, the downforce, the braking – everything is really new.”
Kaiser, 21, was awarded a $1 million scholarship to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series for winning the Indy Lights title. He’ll compete in four races – Phoenix, Long Beach, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. He’s taking a step-by-step process to gain experience in the car.
“I’m doing a methodical approach,” he said. “I want to get comfortable in the car before I start attacking everything, but I feel like we’re experiencing a lot of the similar issues I hear from guys that are veterans. Some of the braking I’m kind of sneaking up on, but I have noticed it’s a little inconsistent. We’re making a lot of changes to get the braking under control at the start before we start attacking the rest of the corners.”
Joining Harvey and Kaiser on track today were drivers from Team Penske (Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power), Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon and Ed Jones), Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Zach Veach), Carlin (Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens).
Drivers who previously tested the new car have described a lighter rear end and more demand on hands and feet, an intended consequence of the new design. Harvey and Kaiser echoed those descriptions.
“I definitely felt that sensation,” Harvey said. “I love it. I think the car is great to drive.”
Most of the 2018 teams that didn’t test today are expected to do so Wednesday on Sebring’s 11-turn, 1.68-mile short course. Rene Binder, who is sharing the Juncos entry this season with Kaiser, will also test. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is set for March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).