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Arrow Schmidt Peterson race report, Round 5 – IndyCar Grand Prix

(via Motorsport.com) – There were high points for everyone involved in the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports program on the Indianapolis road course last weekend, and it was Jack Harvey in the AutoNation/SiriusXM Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM machine who made the big impression with his first podium, writes David Malsher.

Last Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was one of the most memorable races of the past several seasons in a series where entertaining events are the norm. With the event compressed into just two days, Friday and Saturday, teams were forced to get their house in order very rapidly. Just two 45-minute practice sessions were followed by qualifying, all in one day, and the traditionally fickle Indiana weather threw the teams a curve ball.

The weather forecasters had got it right and it was, as promised, very cold – ambient 55degF, track temperature 65degF – and so the Honda teams such as Arrow SPM that had tested on the 2.439-mile course the week before in 80degF weather had acquired a lot of data that no longer applied. In the frigid conditions of race weekend, the tires were taking far longer to warm up and Firestone had brought along a new alternate compound tire, about which the teams could only make projections rather than work off track-proven data. Teams are not permitted to test on the softer tires.

Arrow SPM rookie Marcus Ericsson was reasonably happy with his qualifying performance for the IndyCar Grand Prix, scoring the best grid slot of his nascent IndyCar career in ninth. The ridiculously close nature of the NTT IndyCar Series, particularly around this track, meant that finding just 0.1sec would have put him fourth fastest! Veteran teammate James Hinchcliffe went in a different setup direction in qualifying and wound up only 18th: like many teams and drivers, he was left scratching his head because his car felt good but just wasn’t producing the expected lap time.

Come the race, their fortunes soon reversed. Ericsson was pressuring three-time IndyCar GP winner Will Power for ninth place on the 12th lap when he got a little too close to the Penske car in the long Turn 14 curve onto the pitstraight. The front end lost downforce and understeered, then it suddenly gripped again and sent the tail swinging out, looping the #7 Arrow SPM-Honda backward into the wall. After a restart from the AMR Safety Team, Ericsson limped the car back to pit lane but the damage was bad enough for the team to retire the car.

The strategy for Hinchcliffe’s side of the team was ambitious and it very nearly worked. Because each car is obliged to run at least one set of both the primary and the alternate tires in the absence of rain, the #5 car was put onto the primary tires at the start but the team determined to pit Hinch at the first available opportunity to take on the softer red-sidewalled alternate tires. This was by far the most suitable compound for the still chilly conditions, since it warms up faster and therefore generates more grip.

Sure enough, on the harder primaries, Hinchcliffe was skating around like Bambi on the frozen lake, but when his teammate’s shunt brought out the first full-course caution, the #5 Arrow SPM-Honda was brought in for the ‘reds’ and committed to an off-sequence strategy. Even when he struck Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car on a restart and was served a drive-through-pitlane penalty, James was able to set a strong pace so that when the ‘on-sequence’ cars pitted he was able to lay down his fastest lap of the race and move into fifth place. The same sequence next time around saw him move up to third, and then during the third caution period, he optimistically grabbed another set of reds.

However, during this elongated period under a full-course yellow, rain arrived and Hinchcliffe and many others had to pit yet again for rain tires. Over the closing quarter of the race on a rain-soaked track, a few lurid incidents in the difficult conditions saw him fall out of the Top 10, eventually finishing 16th.

 

Jack Harvey and the Meyer Shank connection

The most heartwarming story of the race came courtesy of the sister car to the #5 and #7, that is, the Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM entry driven by Jack Harvey, which qualified and finished third.

Harvey, the 2012 British Formula 3 champion and two-time runner-up in the Indy Lights championship for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, last year proved how tough it is to be an IndyCar part-timer in the current era. The competition is so tough, the lap times so compressed, that a team not competing in every round is conceding two or three tenths in qualifying which can equate to eight or nine grid slots. And of course where a driver starts will shape his strategy and his race and contribute to where he finishes.

In 2017, Harvey made his IndyCar debut driving for Michael Shank Racing in partnership with Andretti Autosport in the Indy 500 and it ended in an accident after he ran over someone else’s crash debris. Later in the year he rejoined Arrow SPM for two races to replace Mikhail Aleshin and Jack looked impressively close to temporary teammate Hinchcliffe; with a bit more experience, he could surely make strides.

Last year, Shank and new partner Jim Meyer entered six IndyCar races in a technical partnership with Schmidt and Peterson, and Harvey showed flashes of promise, but still the gaps between races were hurting him in comparison with his full-time rivals. However, with 10 races confirmed for 2019, including the first six, Harvey’s had consistency, and his confidence has built, so that he’s now delivering as much useful feedback as he’s receiving from Hinchcliffe and Ericsson.

Last weekend on the IMS road course, a venue on which he’d won in Indy Lights four years earlier, Harvey was hugely impressive, contending for pole, qualifying third, and finishing third. Perhaps most significant was the fact that he was extremely fast in the dry, the damp and treacherous, and the outright wet conditions. This despite the fact that it was his first ever wet IndyCar race, and only his 14th IndyCar race altogether!

“I think everybody at Meyer Shank Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has done an absolutely fantastic job,” he said afterward. “But to share the podium with [Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing] I think is pretty special.

 

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