Harvey has breakout race in IndyCar Grand Prix

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INDIANAPOLIS – Young Jack Harvey had to convince NTT IndyCar Series team owner Michael Shank to add the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the team’s 10-race limited schedule.

Shank was originally not convinced that was a good idea.

The team owner wanted to stick to a plan that he used last year by skipping the road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so the team could have a well-tuned, thoroughly prepared car for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. That way, the team could spend the first weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway massaging the car rather than spending all day Monday, dramatically changing the car’s setup from road course configuration to oval.

Harvey was determined to convince Shank the IndyCar Grand Prix was a good idea.

“We chatted about it, and then we chatted about it again, and I could tell there was something that wasn’t selling very well,” Harvey told NBC Sports.com on Saturday. “I just said to him, ‘Trust me. I’m good at this track.’ It’s a track we come to and I believe I have enough talent to deliver the result that we have.

“It was trust on his part. I wasn’t trying to BS him. I was being honest with him, and I believed it. The result today showed it.”

Harvey lived up to his promise and finished third in Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix, the highest finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career.

“Hopefully, next time when I say, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ he will know it then,” Harvey said. “Michael is as good a team boss as you can ever have.”

Shank stood in the rain in Victory Lane watching his driver celebrate on the podium. He is glad he listened to his driver and let him talk him into adding the race to this year’s expanded schedule.

“Jack told me, ‘I’m good there. Let me do this race,’” Shank told NBCSports.com. “I said, ‘Oh, man, we need to get ready for the Indianapolis 500.’ He said, ‘Let’s do the race.’

“Well, he is good here.”

The driver from Bassingham, England had won an Indy Lights race from the pole during the IndyCar GP weekend in 2015. He also won on the oval in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race in 2015.

“I’m really pleased, super proud of him,” Shank said. “The way he integrated with the crew chief, the engineers and Honda this weekend was literally perfect.

“He had never driven in the rain today. We literally dropped him in the fire and said, ‘Don’t mess this up.’ There’s a lot of joy and a lot of happiness right now.

“This is a step in the right direction. We are way ahead of schedule.

“Jack deserves a chance at this. He has worked his ass off; he is great with people, and he deserves this. If this race had been in the dry, we are second and could have maybe had more.”

INDYCAR PhotoHarvey showed his promise and potential in Friday’s qualifications when he finished third. He was impressive in the race as weather played a major factor in track conditions.

In many ways, Harvey never turned a wheel wrong all weekend.

“To qualify third, to finish third I think was a result that if you’d have offered it to us before the weekend started, we would have taken it, and hopefully this is just that springboard for us, for first off of May,” Harvey said. “Hopefully it gives us some good momentum throughout the rest of this month, but also looking forward to the future, to the end of 2019 and looking forward to 2020.”

When Simon Pagenaud was charging to the front in the closing laps, a key moment in that winning drive came when he passed Harvey in Turn 1.

“There was a few laps where I thought we could hold him off, and then you talk about a bright car,” Harvey said. “Into Turn 1, I saw this ‘Yellow Dart’ suddenly just like arrive straight at the apex and thought, ‘Man, that was pretty brave,’ and thank God his car is so bright.’

“Clearly Simon had a very quick car today. We were racing together in the dry. We were racing together in the wet. He had a bit more pace than we did at the end there, and I thought his move was pretty good on Scott Dixon, too. I was a little bit behind it, but around the outside in Turn 8 and then on the inside through 9, it was a pretty stout day, and I think I heard Scott mention, you see how much it means to win just a race, because it’s so difficult all the time.

“I think we’ve been on the edge of a good result like this for a while, but actually trying to gel those pieces, put it all together have been tricky, so that’s why I think you have to enjoy every podium, every win that comes, especially in this place because I feel like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a racing driver’s ‘Neverland.’ It’s where we come to try and not get old.

“Did I think we could hold him off? Yeah, I certainly hoped we could, but in the end, we couldn’t quite.”

At the checkered flag, it was Pagenaud defeating Dixon by 2.0469 seconds with Harvey’s Honda in third.

The podium celebration is one that Harvey will always remember.

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski“To share the podium with both of those guys I think is pretty special,” Harvey said. “Our first podium in IndyCar today, and hopefully it’s the first of a few, and we’re just going to keep using it to keep learning, get more experience, and hopefully it won’t be as much of a shock when we get in here again.”

Dixon thought it was important to see a veteran driver return to victory as Pagenaud won for the first time since Sonoma 2017. He also believed it was important to see a new driver and potential star of the future in Harvey have a breakout race.

“I think it’s very important for the future of the sport,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “Jack has done a fantastic job, I think, bringing different sponsors to the series, as well, and even his owner with Shank. He’s a great person, very successful in many other forms of racing, and it’s good to see them come over here.

“But it shows you the ability of any team with the parts and pieces that everybody has, you can come here and run strong, and if you’ve got a good driver, you can make it happen. I think that’s why we’re seeing such a big influx from Europe and great drivers that have come through the ranks here in America, too.

“It’s definitely a bright future.”

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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