Jack Harvey has driven through some of the most daunting, neck-straining corners in worldwide auto racing during his racing career.
Turn 1 at Indianapolis. Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps. The esses at Watkins Glen. Maggotts/Becketts at Silverstone. The corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
But none of those turns prepared the Verizon IndyCar Series driver and Indianapolis 500 veteran Harvey – and his stomach – for what he experienced in the ride of his lifetime Wednesday in the skies above Indianapolis.
Meyer Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Harvey flew as a passenger with two-time Red Bull Air Race world champion Kirby Chambliss in the two-seater aerobatic plane. Chambliss was in Indianapolis to give celebrity flights in advance of the third annual Red Bull Air Race World Championship event Oct. 6-7 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Also taking a ride was retired WNBA legend Tamika Catchings.
“It was the most out-of-control, fun thing I think I’ve ever done,” Harvey said. “I don’t like being a passenger in people’s road cars. The only time I fly in a plane is across the Atlantic to come from the U.K. to America. This is like a bullet through the air. I’m probably still processing it. All I could see was the Earth spinning and moving and turning upside down.”
Chambliss, a native Texan who lives in Tucson, Arizona, briefed Englishman Harvey on the ground before they took off. They traded notes on the performance of Chambliss’ plane and Harvey’s Honda-powered Dallara Indy car, with Chambliss offering a few tips for Harvey to cope with the extreme G-forces generated when the plane started its quick maneuvers.
Harvey thought he was ready for takeoff. Briefed. Prepared. Steeled for flight.
Try again. The shock to Harvey’s senses caused immediate amnesia, especially when Chambliss started to show off his aerobatic skills.
“As soon as we got in the air, I pretty much forgot everything he said,” Harvey said with a laugh. “Honestly, what I was more worried about was touching a part of the plane I shouldn’t be touching.
“At a moment there, my body was doing just whatever it was doing. I don’t remember where my arms were.”
The affable Chambliss continued to test Harvey’s equilibrium – and stomach – with more challenging rolls, spins, dives and turns. After all, INDYCAR drivers pull lateral forces up to six times that of gravity in some corners, so Harvey is used to the strain. Red Bull Air Race pilots reach 10 G’s during vertical turn maneuvers in competition.
But all forces are not the same. Harvey was quick to point out that INDYCAR drivers endure lateral forces. The longitudinal forces that pilots and their passengers frequently encounter place a completely different stress on the body, especially to the uninitiated.
“The only thing I can compare it to is when you’re driving and you go up a hill and quick over the brow and duck down, and your whole inside feels like it’s coming up,” Harvey said. “It was that, times a number I couldn’t explain unless you did it. It was way beyond anything. The thing that shocked me is we did negative G’s, and I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that before. We were going from rolls to banking through corners. I felt a mess when I was up there!”
Chambliss calmly told Harvey via the cockpit intercom to find a visual guide on the plane’s left wing to help him quickly deduce his orientation to the ground, much like a race driving instructor uses distance markers or other cues in corners to help students learn braking points or corner apex locations.
“He was just amazing,” Harvey said of veteran pilot Chambliss. “He was so calm and cool and collected the whole time. When you’ve got someone like that whispering in your ear, even though I was petrified and screaming like a little girl at one point, he was so in control. Knew everything that was going on.
“I was like, ‘This is a guy who’s got it completely going on.’ I kept calling him a crazy man when we were up there.”
Harvey can compare post-flight notes with teammate James Hinchcliffe, who also flew last summer with Chambliss from Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis. Harvey and Hinchcliffe do have one shared experience from their flights – they both needed to use the air sickness bag for a brief spell while onboard.
“I was pretty good at first,” Harvey said. “I think he was trying to see how much I could take. Then we got to this severity of G-force with one move. And then the last one I was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and we banked it, and I just thought, ‘Oohhhhh,’ and his voice kind of came back to me, and I was like, ‘All right, probably OK now.’
“And then as we started to kind of level out and make that approach back in, I had to grab my sick bag.”
Still, Harvey was buzzing once the plane landed and he climbed from the cockpit, pointing out the similarities and differences of racing athletes and teams that compete at the highest level in cars and planes.
“It’s just amazing to see people who compete in exactly the same level as what we do in something that is so different,” Harvey said. “They’re literally trying to stay in the air longer, while we’re trying to do the exact opposite, trying to find how you can push your car into the ground more. Aerodynamically, they’re just about as opposite as you can get. It’s amazing.”
Would he fly again with Chambliss?
“I’d do it again in two hours once I chilled out a bit,” Harvey said. “This was awesome. It’s one of the most pure-feeling experiences I’ve ever had.”
Visit IMS.com to buy tickets or for more information about the Red Bull Air Race.