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Is Jack Harvey poised to join Andretti’s Indy rookie star club?

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Ask Jack Harvey about anything racing and you’ll likely get a standard answer, but ask him about his favorite show on TV at the moment – HBO’s genius tech satire “Silicon Valley” – and you’ll get even more of a response plus a few laughs.

And how does “Silicon Valley” tie into racing, you may ask? It’s not uncommon for young upstarts to blossom into becoming superstars in the industry, but only a select few make it while others flame out.

This intro provides the perfect background to consider that for racing’s young upstarts, Andretti Autosport is peak feeding ground for success, because they’ve provided unrivaled statistical success in recent times for Indianapolis 500 rookies.

In 2013, Carlos Munoz was known only to a select few folks who paid sincere attention to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires. But Munoz developed his “own line” – call it his own algorithm for navigating Turn 1 of the 2.5-mile mecca that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and it produced rapid success. Munoz finished second to popular winner Tony Kanaan, and was actually disappointed with the result.

Flash forward to last year. Alexander Rossi was known to the world from his Formula 1 pursuit, the dogged determination of an American trying to make it Europe. Then he came back Stateside last minute and promptly won the 100th Indianapolis 500 in the fuel save, clutch-and-coast special heard ’round the world. And Munoz was second.

This is where Harvey enters the picture. The Englishman turns 24 next week and is right in that critical period of his career where he still could on the verge of being a success in Silicon Valley, or risk falling off the radar altogether. And Andretti Autosport is his incubator for his IndyCar debut, a place he couldn’t be happier to enter… probably because Erlich Bachman isn’t part of the team.

“It’s super surreal mate, to be honest with you,” Harvey told NBC Sports. “If you look at what Andretti have achieved with rookies, it’s an incredible opportunity. As a single-car addition for the race, you’re getting to do it with a team that’s won it two of the last three years, and had the strategy covered either way last year. For me to be a rookie as part of a great organization, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Life has given us lemons and now it’s time to do a good job with them. With this team’s experience, it’s definitely a confidence boost.”

Harvey came Stateside with support from the Racing Steps Foundation in 2014 after success in the GP3 Series, and could well have won the Indy Lights championship in his first crack at it. But despite a late-season flourish of wins on road course, Harvey lost a tiebreaker to Gabby Chaves.

The 2015 season was particularly brutal for him to come up short again. Pegged as the preseason championship favorite, Carlin’s Ed Jones upset the form book by winning the first three races, and then Juncos Racing’s Spencer Pigot promptly completed three weekend doubleheader sweeps. That’s nine races lost there for Harvey, and despite his own month of May sweep at IMS on both the road course and the Freedom 100, his title hopes came unglued down the stretch, particularly during a contentious weekend with contact with Jones at Mid-Ohio.

Harvey sought to put an IndyCar deal together regardless for 2016, while Pigot and Jones have now advanced into IndyCar themselves on the strength of their Indy Lights titles and the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarships that went with it.

Without racing, Harvey has stayed in the game as a coach for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indy Lights team in 2016 and now for Neil Alberico, the Rising Star Racing-backed driver, at Carlin this year. But it was not easy for Harvey to keep his spirits up as he questioned how he could keep his dream alive.

“I think last year I made a conscious decision to come back just to be around,” he said. “I love living here. I love Indy with the people and the racing here. Everyone’s welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t have a drive. It was tough to stay motivated. We kept grinding.

“I’ll be first to admit the last 18 months have been the most challenging personally I’ve had to deal with. But to get it over the line now is a big weight off the shoulders.”

Of the three 2015 title rivals, it’s now only Jones and Harvey confirmed for May – Pigot’s status is surprisingly questionable now because Ed Carpenter Racing has ruled out a third car – and it’s Harvey’s chance to deliver.

Naturally, it takes a commercial partner to make it happen and longtime Andretti sponsor AutoNation is going in on a bigger role. Harvey’s program comes down in large part to the connections there.

There’s another thing that makes this entry notable: the No. 50. There’s an AutoNation connection with 50 million customers served over more than 20 years. And there’s an Indianapolis 500 connection, as well – the last time anyone raced the No. 50 there, in 2012, Dario Franchitti won the race by defeating Harvey’s now-teammate Takuma Sato, whose Turn 1 pass attempt failed.

“By racing the No. 50 car, Jack is celebrating the 50 million customers AutoNation has serviced over the last 20 years, who show their encouragement through their Pink Plates to benefit breast cancer research. The entire AutoNation team will be rooting for Jack Harvey and Ryan Hunter-Reay on race day,” AutoNation CMO and EVP Marc Cannon said in a release.

Harvey could only laugh when hearing the Franchitti nugget, wondering if that meant there was more pressure. Given that all five of Andretti Autosport’s cars qualified in the top 11 last year and any of Munoz, Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell had a realistic shot at winning it, Harvey thinks a top-10 finish for his debut is within range.

“To give a realistic projection, if we parked it in the top 10, I think that’d be a pretty solid result,” he explained. “Rookie-of-the-year would be mega. If the opportunity to win was there, of course you’d take it. But you need to finish and be smart first, go and try to make top-10, and see how testing and quali goes. I think that’s a strong starting point. I don’t want to be that guy to say, ‘win or bust.’ That’s not what this is about. It’s about showcasing what I can do, and how well can I do it, and see if they’ll be keen to bring me back for another race.”

This is Harvey’s opportunity and he’s determined to see his maiden month of May come good.

“There’s so much experience to pull upon,” he said. “When you have so many good teammates, not to sound cliché, but it massively helps. I’m excited to be a part of it and with one of the best teams in the world. It’s an amazing achievement really. Even people in the U.K. who don’t know much about America know Andretti Autosport.”

Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”