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.”

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”