(via INDYCAR.com) – It is, as Sam Schmidt says, the perfect plug-and-play situation.
Oriol Servia, the veteran of 10 Indianapolis 500s and 203 Indy car races, will partner with Team Stange Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 103rd running of the race May 26. The teams unveiled Servia’s No. 77 car co-sponsored by MotoGator and Lucas Oil in its garage Monday evening at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Servia joins James Hinchcliffe and rookie Marcus Ericsson – along with Jack Harvey in Arrow SPM’s partnership with Meyer Shank Racing – for a formidable Honda-powered unit that now has an accomplished, 44-year-old teammate capable of strengthening the effort with experience, knowledge and speed. Servia also becomes the 36th entered driver in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“The smart teams try to put together a third or fourth entry that will give them one more bullet to try to win,” Servia said. “That’s 100 percent what these guys are doing here. I’m not just saying that because they’re putting me in the car. … The whole program has been done under that philosophy. They want a third bullet.”
The deal reunites Servia with engineer Bruno Couprie, with whom he teamed to start third and finish sixth for Newman/Haas Racing in the 2011 Indy 500. That was Servia’s second-best finish at Indy; the following year he finished a career-best fourth with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. He also led 16 laps late in last year’s race in a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Scuderia Corsa entry before needing to pit for fuel with seven laps to go.
This will be Servia’s second Indy 500 with Arrow SPM. In 2016, he started 10th and finished 12th in the No. 77 car.
“I’ve raced with Oriol on our team and I’ve raced with Oriol not on our team. I prefer to have him on our team,” team co-owner Schmidt said. “From a technical standpoint, he’s been on the front row here. He’s been in the top five. He knows how to get the car to the finish line. All of those things were very important for us.”
The deal also includes a team and sponsor with full-time aspirations. Team Stange Racing, which competes in ARCA Racing and NASCAR K&N Pro Series stock car races, is led by John Stange Jr., who hopes to join with MotoGator for a full-season attempt in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2020 or 2021.
“Once we developed our plan, we knew that we wanted to launch at the world’s greatest race with so much history and it being so special to me personally,” Stange said in a statement. “The second thing to do was to partner with a quality team that we could align and grow with as we build our team to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series eventually full time.”
The natural fit of driver and team is based on more than just race experience. Servia teamed with Arrow SPM to work on Honda’s development of the universal aero kits introduced to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2018.
“He’s got a lot of experience, obviously, but he’s also got a lot of experience with our team specifically,” Taylor Kiel, Arrow SPM’s general manager, said. “We ran him when we did the development work for the new body kits, and the group that ran him for all of those tests is by and large the group that will run him here. That continuity is there.
“There are a lot of pieces in play that he’s comfortable with, and we’re also very comfortable with him. He brings a fresh perspective and an experienced perspective. He’s a guy we can put in a race car and start tuning immediately.”
Servia’s 2016 run at Indy with the team coincided with Hinchcliffe’s pole-winning effort. Schmidt said the goal in hiring Servia was to provide strength through stability and familiarity.
“We’ve got James, who has been on the pole here and has led a bunch of laps. We’ve got that level of experience,” Schmidt said. “At the other end, we’ve got a pure rookie in Marcus, who is new to the series and to ovals. We need to give him as much attention as possible. We really felt it was critical to have someone in the third seat that doesn’t need a whole lot of attention, someone who can get the job done, no ifs, ands or buts.”
For Servia, it’s simple. It’s like coming home.
“It feels natural,” he said. “The whole technical group I knew very well. The owners are great guys. They were very good to me when I drove for them three years ago. Their goal is to win and nothing else. That’s the main reason why I show up to this race, right? It all came together nicely.”
The first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 is Tuesday. Oval veterans will take to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. ET, when rookie orientation and veteran refreshers begin. At 3 p.m., the track opens to all cars until 6 p.m. Live coverage is available on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Timing and scoring accompanied by Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network commentary is available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Tickets for practice, qualifying and race days are available at IMS.com.