Jack Harvey set for Indy 500 debut with Andretti Autosport

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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LONG BEACH, Calif. – After more than a year out of the cockpit, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in one of the best seats on the grid.

Harvey has been confirmed with Andretti Autosport to drive its fifth Honda-powered entry for this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, alongside the team’s full-season quartet of defending Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi, 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato.

He’ll be in the No. 50 Honda with support from AutoNation, a longtime Andretti Autosport partner.

“The Indy 500 is easily the biggest race I have entered in my career so far,” Harvey said in a release. “It is one of the most iconic races in the world and I feel extremely privileged to be taking part in it. To have the opportunity to do this with one of the best teams on the grid – a team that has won two of the last three races there – is more than I could have dreamed of.

“We have been working incredibly hard over the last 18 months to make this happen and it’s hard to put into words what this means to me.  I want to thank the whole Andretti Autosport team for this opportunity.  I also want to thank everyone that has supported me over my racing career; especially my family, friends and my manager. Finally, this wouldn’t be possible without the support of AutoNation, so I am very grateful for them helping me put this together.”

“AutoNation is excited to build on our partnership with Andretti Autosport through the sponsorship of Jack Harvey,” added AutoNation CMO and EVP Marc Cannon. “Jack is a talented driver who will be joining AutoNation in the fight against cancer by supporting our Drive Pink initiative. 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.”

He won the 2015 Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thus far his career highlight after coming up short of winning the Indy Lights titles in both 2014 and 2015 in challenging, heartbreaking fashion.

Harvey has had multiple tests with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in IndyCar over the last couple years on road courses. He has served as a driver coach with SPM in Indy Lights and additionally serves as Neil Alberico’s coach this year, for the Rising Star Racing-supported driver at Carlin.

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.