When first approached to drive the pace car at Verizon IndyCar Series races, Oriol Servia was conflicted. On one hand, he was honored to be asked. On the other hand, he still has some racing left to do.
Servia is already signed to compete in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil next month in an alignment between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and successful sports-car operation Scuderia Corsa. Other racing opportunities could develop for the 43-year-old from Spain during the remainder of the 2018 season, but he has agreed to a part-time run as the series' pace car driver, beginning with Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
“When they first came to me with this, I wasn’t sure how to respond,” Servia said. “I mean, I feel like I still have it, and I’m still racing at Indy, and I don’t feel like I’m that old. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity.”
Servia and Sarah Fisher, who has driven the pace car at INDYCAR races since 2016, will split the duties for the rest of the season. Fisher shared the duties with legendary Indy car champion Johnny Rutherford in 2016, then took over full time last year. Growing family and business obligations have necessitated that Fisher step back from the full-time role.
“Sarah has done a great job for us but she was unavailable for all of the races,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “Oriol is a pro and was a pleasure to work with last year when we did our new car testing. He was a natural choice for this position. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Servia credited Rutherford, a three-time Indy 500 winner, with developing the pace car duties into a role of ambassador for the sport, something Fisher carries on today.
“It’s an honor to be considered alongside Johnny Rutherford and Sarah Fisher,” Servia said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to give back to Indy car racing and connect with fans.”
At the Indianapolis 500 next month, Fisher will handle pace car duties during the race after the honorary driver to be named paces the field to start “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Servia expects to be competing in the race for the 10th time in his career.
“It goes without saying that we are very pleased to have Oriol back with us for our fifth Indy 500 together,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal said when Servia was announced last month as the team’s third driver alongside Graham Rahal and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. “He brings a lot of talent to the program and I have no doubt that, together with Graham and Takuma, we are going to have three very strong entries for the Indy 500.”
After winning the Indy Lights championship in 1999, Servia joined PPI Motorsports for the 2000 CART season, recording a podium finish at Detroit. In his best season, 2005, Servia joined Newman/Haas Racing after two races with Dale Coyne Racing, scoring seven podium finishes, including a victory at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. He finished second in the championship to then-teammate Sebastien Bourdais.
In nine previous Indianapolis 500s, Servia has two finishes in the top six – a fourth-place effort for Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing In 2012 and a sixth-place showing after starting on the front row for Newman/Haas in 2011. He has been in 202 career Indy car races.
Servia turned his first pace car practice laps today at ISM Raceway, in preparation for his debut in the role on Saturday. The 250-lap race airs live at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.