By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California – Two years ago in Long Beach, owner Michael Shank and his NTT IndyCar Series driver Jack Harvey struck a deal to run in the Indianapolis 500 as part of an agreement done with Shank and Andretti Autosport, and while his debut didn’t last due to a crash early in the race, the duo have shown consistent pace ever since.
Shank described the agreement as a Fernando Alonso deal, where the plan was for him to have Stefan Wilson drive the car, but that all changed once Andretti Autosport suggested to have Harvey in his single-car entry.
“It was kind of a Fernando Alonso moment. I had a deal in place to run Stefan Wilson at Andretti in 2017. Jack had his deal done already with Andretti for that year,” Shank explained. “The Alonso factor came in and when that happened, Andretti needed to do an internal shuffle of some things. They asked us to run Jack and we did.
“From that point in 2017 which was this race, I was told at this race that we’re going to have Jack and we started immediately talking and figuring each other out.”
Harvey described it as circumstantial as it pertained how they first met when the deal was made in Long Beach, and now entering his third season in IndyCar, it’s become full circle and now hopes they can keep growing as a team after scoring two top-10s in three races this season.
“The way me and Michael met was in some unique circumstances. We had initially signed to do something with Andretti Autosport two years ago,” said Harvey. “It’s kind of funny how these things come around full circle. We basically had this idea that we wanted to go race in IndyCar. I spoke to Michael about it and he believed that we can do it. Without Michael, we don’t have an IndyCar program.
“Obviously, he’s extremely successful in his sport car career and we want to match that success in IndyCar. I believe that with the team and people we have in place, we can do that. Michael has been totally instrumental. I like working with him and love him as a person. Hopefully it’s the start of for us both.”
Now entering the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Harvey hopes to rebound after finishing 13th last Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park as another top-10 effort for the Bassingham, England native were dashed due to a malfunction on his pit road speed limiter, which gave him a penalty.
“I think we had a great strategy. We were probably on pace of finishing seventh or ninth,” Harvey on his performance at Barber. “I came into the pits and thought I’ve latched the pit lane speed control, and it didn’t latch properly.
“I came into the pits okay, but then as I accelerated out back into the fast lane. I basically over sped and triggered an interim line and kind of cost us a few positions. We’ve lost somewhere between four or six places.”
Perhaps most intriguing about their strong start to their season which sees Harvey 14th in the championship standings is they’re still a part-time team as they’ll run 12 races out of the 17 the series runs, which Shank sees it as a huge deal and his goal is that everyone on the MSR squad gradually improves as the season continues.
“It’s big. It’s a much better thing. Everything we do in IndyCar is very kind of conservative and to the point. Meaning we have realistic expectations,” said Shank. “Our partners and sponsors have bought into that and understand what we’re trying to do and what we’re building there. What we ask for from everybody on the team, not just Jack, but from the team too is make progress. Make progress over 2017 and 2018, and we’ve done that in every department.
“From the car side, the pit stop side, the organization side. It’s just beginning to scratch the surface, but I think what we’re ultimately able to do. We look forward to going to the speedways this year. I think we’re going to be pretty competitive there. Everything is going as planned, we’re just not trying to ram things up the pipeline until its right.”
Harvey has also seen his No. 60 SiriusXM Honda team heading into the right direction, notably on the strategy side of things which has helped him have stellar results, but hopes to clean up the various mistakes he and the team have made.
“I think we’re improving every time,” said Harvey. “Things are ticking in a nice direction for us right now and slowly starting to trend on the right direction. I think we have good qualifying pace right now. We got a little bit of race pace to find, but so far strategies have been good. We’re having good starts. We’re not really replicating mistakes, we just sometimes find a new one which is frustrating, but I’m excited for what we can achieve throughout the season and hopefully we show that this weekend.”
Prior to this season, Harvey created a small buzz in last year’s Indianapolis 500, where in the final eight laps, he, Wilson and Oriol Servia gambled by staying out which put them out in front, hoping they’ll have enough fuel to make it or have another caution which would’ve ended the race.
Unfortunately, neither of the three had enough fuel and all darted left into the pits, leaving empty handed with Harvey ending up 16th.
Harvey said if there’s a place to gamble, the Indy 500 is the race to do it.
“The 500 is the biggest race of the year, so if there’s ever a time to take a risky strategy, I think it’s there. The significance of winning it and the importance of the Indy 500 is a life changer. I thought we had a great strategy call. Obviously, it didn’t work out, but I was all for it. Who knows what could’ve been, but we go there next month and we’ll try to do the best we can.
“This is a great three-race spell coming from the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to the Indy road course and then finishing May with the Indy 500. Moments like this is where I feel particularly lucky to do my job.”
Despite being heartbreaking, Shank saw it differently because of the excitement level and also a reminder that his team must improve on their qualifying results, which has put his team in a tough spot like at Indianapolis last May.
“If you look where we qualified, which was just okay. We had to do some things to try to get to the front and those things we did toward the end of the race paid off,” said Shank. “We knew our car was a solid top-10 race car, we just needed to get there. We took a run at it with fuel, and theoretically what would’ve happened in our brains was we had that restart which we did.
“We passed Oriol which we did, and theoretically someone behind that usually gets tangled up and causes a yellow. If that would’ve happened, we would’ve made to the end in the top-three at the Indianapolis 500. It didn’t happen, so we ran out of fuel, but we were going to finish 16th or win the race or come close to it. We chose to go for it, and it served us well. A lot of people got excited about that and I think it showed what the potential is in our entire package.”
With Indianapolis behind them, the team are focused on capitalizing from their 12th place result at Long Beach, which was Harvey’s previous best finish before scoring his two top-10s at St. Petersburg and Circuit of the Americas.
Harvey had a car that was capable of staying in the top-10, but a 17th place start forced the MSR effort on trying a different strategy to gain valuable track position which didn’t work out in the end.
Shank said that after making it into the second round of qualifying at St. Petersburg and Barber, with seventh in the former being his best thus far, the temporary end goal is to make the Firestone Fast Six which he’s optimistic it can be done this weekend.
“What we don’t want to do is start 20th like we did here last year,” said Shank. “When we do that, then we got to do these crazy strategies to try to get track position back and that’s what got us out. It was working for awhile but it totally got us out at the end, so we finished 12th. We’re much better equipped to deal with it now. We’re just in the better place right now.
“I don’t know where that’ll ultimately lead, but our goal is to transfer at least once at every race we do because we’re still a part-time team and finish in the top-10 every single time we can. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can land around the top-five or six when we execute things perfectly.”
The 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place Sunday April 14. The race will air on NBCSN live at 4:00 pm ET.