Five years into a budding NTT IndyCar Series career, Jack Harvey decided the time was right for a change. Assessing his results, he found satisfaction in some areas, disappointment in others, and it was the latter that drove the swap from Meyer Shank Racing for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
The bold maneuver came as a surprise to his former team, and with his, the Briton has embraced a new reality where excuses won’t be accepted. At MSR, a team on a slow march that finally made the leap to full-time participation in 2020, the growing pains were part of the maturation process for driver and crew. At RLL, which just celebrated its 30th IndyCar season, reconnecting with its most competitive days is the task presented to its newcomer.
Last season, MSR and Harvey routinely starred on Saturdays in qualifying, where the No. 60 Honda started sixth or better at six races. Harvey also charged forward on multiple occasions where disappointments in qualifying were resolved with drives from 20th to fourth in Portland, and 20th to seventh in Long Beach. A few too many Sundays, however, went awry as odd strategy calls and other misfortunes blighted a year where Harvey failed to make a single trip to the podium.
Somewhere along the way, the free agent noted the interest he’d drawn from RLL, opened up talks with team president Piers Phillips and co-owner Bobby Rahal, and felt better fortunes could be found as teammate to Graham Rahal.
“First, I spoke to Piers because I’ve known him for a long, and he said he and Bobby were interested in talking to me,” Harvey tells RACER. “My parents always said there’s never really any harm in listening, and I ended up having a call with them and it went really well. I feel like the team is exceptionally strong; they’re very well organized. They’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle to mount a really successful effort. I want to win races. I want to win championships. And I feel like I’m ready to do that with this team.”
Signed to a multi-year deal, Harvey’s stepping into Takuma Sato’s former Indy 500-winning program. For the sake of branding and continuity with midwestern grocery store Hy-Vee, the car number will change from the No. 30 to No. 45 Honda to better align with the marketing program associated with the No. 45 car in 2021. Make no mistake; Harvey is Sato’s replacement, not the third driver. Whomever is inked to pilot the No. 30 Honda will be in the expanded entry.
Harvey is mindful of the message he sends in regard to MSR. Careful to avoid saying anything that might be construed as negative or overly critical, the 28-year-old points to an urgent need to vie for wins and titles as the reason to leave for RLL.
“Throughout certain parts of the season, we just were always lacking something, and I include myself in that statement,” he says. “And again, the first thing I want to say is obviously a huge thank you to Michael Shank and Jim Meyer; at no point have I ever wanted to be disrespectful towards them. Without them, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity and for people see what our potential was. We just didn’t hit it often enough.”
“The nice thing about that RLL wanted to take a risk on me and I believe I can help them achieve their goals. Why did I leave? Their goals mirror mine, and this is a step forward in my career. I know MSR will also be successful; they were successful winning the Indy 500, and to be honest, it stung a bit watching Helio win first time out, knowing all I’d been through with MSR from the start. I obviously wanted that to be me. So I can look back on that chapter with MSR, and it was just an absolutely incredible chapter. But I look at the complete package RLL has to offer, and I didn’t want to turn down and I felt like it was a better opportunity and one that I wanted to pursue.”
Just as MSR is looking to take a big leap forward in competitiveness with its new lineup, RLL is on a similar mission with a need to rediscover its top five form, last seen in 2016 with Rahal in the No. 15 Honda. Winless in 2021, Rahal was the best among the RLL drivers with seventh in the championship, but with a sizable gap to its bigger rivals, RLL’s leadership was far from satisfied with their output.
As mentioned, Harvey and the No. 60 Honda made big qualifying waves that were often missing when it was time to go racing and at RLL, with Rahal in particular, Saturdays have been the big deficit. On Sundays, however, the No. 15 Honda was on a constant charge to overcome poor starting positions and made a steady habit of passing all but the leaders.
If you combine their respective strengths across a race weekend, RLL could be a big mover next season. With Harvey in the mix, there’s a hope to create a stronger tandem and improved technical feedback to point the Nos. 15 and 45 towards victory lane.
“The thing I liked about the team straight away was the ambition and the honesty of where they’re at right now what they see as the areas that needs to improve on,” Harvey continues. “And also I felt like we could really help each other. If I can continue to qualify near the front as often as possible, and they continue to have really good race cars, and I can help them with their qualifying car, we’re going to be very close to achieving all of the things we want. That’s the environment I want to be in.
It might come as a surprise for those who watched Harvey and Rahal lob verbal grenades at each other after May’s doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, but Rahal has long been a fan of his new teammate. There’s no relationship to mend; they’ve been close all along.
“Yeah, when I left Texas, it was somewhat unpleasant with how that all happened with Graham,” Harvey says. “But I needed to make it known that I won’t be the easy guy to overtake, and when we spoke afterwards, I accepted my portion of the blame, took 90 percent of it, said I was going to keep racing him hard, and after that, he was he was completely cool. And we’ve actually got on really well the whole time I’ve been in IndyCar.
“I really respect him and what he’s done to push the team, and I think he had a bit of an influence on me being here. I want to contribute; I don’t want to be the driver who just rocks up on the weekends. I will be in the shop, want to share the simulator duties, share all the sponsorship events with him, and be a real, genuine teammate. I’m really excited to make the most of this opportunity that I’ve been given. All the pieces to win are there. I want to come in and try and be the glue that helps them do that.”