Did Jack Harvey Make the Right Move?

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As much as I enjoy this site, it was good to have some time away. As I mentioned last Friday, a lot of last week was devoted to spending time with my son, who flew in from Idaho to pick up my old 2012 Honda Civic so he could drive it back. He arrived on Tuesday and stayed until Friday.

After he left, Susan and I traveled a couple of hours west to Jackson, Tennessee; where we attended my 45th high school reunion (Class of ‘76). I don’t really understand why they did a 45th. Had I been making those decisions, I would have waited five more years until the 50th. Maybe they were afraid too many of us wouldn’t make it, until then.

But after a week away, I feel recharged and refreshed.

Although I was away from the site for about ten days, I still paid attention to what was going on in the IndyCar world. One item got my wheels turning early last week – Jack Harvey’s expected move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) happened on Monday, and I thought about it a lot during the week. One surprise in the announcement was that Harvey will be driving the No.45 Hy-Vee car that was holding driver auditions throughout most of the season.

I think most everyone thought that Harvey was headed for the No. 30 car that was recently and officially vacated by Takuma Sato. That’s the team and car that won the 2020 Indianapolis 500 and three other races (Barber, Gateway and Portland) in Sato’s time at RLLR. It is still a mystery on who will be assigned the former Sato car. Oliver Askew and Santino Ferrucci spent the bulk of the time in that car this past season – but most are guessing that Christian Lundgaard, who only drove one race in the car will get the nod. If that is what happens, I have some definite thoughts on that for another time,

This past season was the first time that RLLR has run a third car away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in several years. It was new team thrown together for nine races, with three different drivers in the cockpit – with none of them named Jack Harvey. Unless they are swapping car numbers with the old Sato crew, this is a team that would be most decidedly the third team at RLLR.

What kept running through my mind all last week is this – did Jack Harvey do himself any favors by leaving Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), to go over to the third car at Rahal Letterman Lanigan?

Nathan Brown of The Indianapolis Star put out an interesting tidbit on Twitter last week. He pointed out that only three IndyCar teams failed to land a Top-Three qualifying spot in 2021, and RLLR was one of them. He went on to point out that Jack Harvey qualified in the Top-Three, three times himself.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan did not win a race in 2021, but MSR won the Indianapolis 500 – albeit with Helio Castroneves in the first-ever appearance of a second car with the team.

RLLR is considered one of the more established teams. The genesis of the team started in 1992, when Bobby Rahal bought the assets of Patrick Racing and earned the CART championship that same year as an owner/driver. Shortly after Rahal made the switch from CART to the IRL, his team won the 2004 Indianapolis 500, with Buddy Rice as a driver. Rahal fielded competitive cars for the next several years, but only won one race between 2004 and 2008 – at Watkins Glen with Ryan Hunter-Reay as the driver.

Hard financial times hit the country in 2009, and Bobby Rahal was not immune to the times. He all but shut his doors from 2009 through 2011, running only the Indianapolis 500 in those years and a couple of more races in 2011. In 2012, RLLR returned to fulltime status with Takuma Sato as his driver. Sato had a couple of podium finishes and came within three turns of winning the Indianapolis 500.

In 2013, Sato moved to Foyt and Graham Rahal partnered with James Jakes, which resulted in them finishing eighteenth and nineteenth respectively. Jakes moved on after 2013, with Oriol Servia Luca Filippi splitting some time in the second car at RLLR in 2014 with not-so-great results. From 2015 through the 2017 season, Graham Rahal was the sole fulltime driver at RLLR.

Most teams and drivers seem to prosper when there are multiple cars on a team, because they can share information. Oddly enough, Rahal’s four RLLR wins came in those years when he was the only driver on the team. When Sato returned in 2018, Graham Rahal’s performance dropped. Rahal’s three championship finishes as a solo driver for his father’s team were fourth, fifth and sixth. After Sato’s return, Graham Rahal had championship final standings of eighth, tenth, sixth and seventh.

I find that to be a very curious stat. While most drivers benefit from the presence of a teammate, apparently Graham Rahal does not. So what did they decide to do for Graham, with that in mind? Add a second teammate.

Jack Harvey has driven for MSR exclusively in his short IndyCar career, except for a two-race stint at the end of the 2017 season, when he drove for Sam Schmidt. That was the same year he made his IndyCar debut in the Indianapolis 500, driving for Michael Shank. Jim Meyer joined the team in 2018, when the team had a methodical plan in place that they followed.

For 2018, they ran six races. The next year they would run ten. It would be 2020, when the team would run their first fulltime season. Harvey was their driver throughout the process. In 2021, the team added a second car that was slated to run six races. Helio Castroneves was the driver. It was thought that it would be good to have a savvy veteran in the wings to help mentor the younger driver. After Helio won the 500, I think MSR made an emotional move and hired him to be the fulltime driver of the No. 06 car for 2022.

I don’t know if the two items were related, but it wasn’t long afterward that Harvey announced he would be leaving MSR at the end of the 2021 season.

A year ago, many were predicting 2021 to be a breakout season for Jack Harvey and MSR. The team and driver had come up together, both learning from the other. I think MSR really benefited from their technical alliance with Andretti Autosport in their two fulltime seasons, but for whatever reason – MSR did not live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon them at the end of last season. Yes, they won the Indianapolis 500, but that was with another driver – not Harvey.

Ever since Harvey finished third in the GMR Grand Prix in 2019; the IndyCar community has been looking for great things from MSR and Jack Harvey, but they just haven’t happened. To date, that has been his highest finish.

While the twenty-eight year-old Harvey struggle to a thirteenth-place finish in 2021, he was out paced by the much younger Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay. Some blamed MSR and their questionable pit strategies, race after race. Others blamed Harvey for never being able to manage his tires, causing him to fade in the latter stages of a race.

The more I think of this move, the more curious I become about it. Was t a good move for Harvey? RLLR has been around a long time. They’ve won races and competed for championships. But there is no question that they are a second-tier team. MSR is considered more of an up and coming team with potentially a higher season…potentially being the key word. They opened eyes when they won the Indianapolis 500 this past May, but many credit their alliance with Andretti. Many say without that alliance, there is no way Helio wins that race.

I am posing a question that I really don’t know the answer to. Is the future brighter at an up and coming team that has an alliance with one of the Big Three (or Four), or is it brighter with a team with a history of wins, but did not win this past year and is expanding to a full three-car effort. It’s something I’ve gone back and forth with, but never came to a conclusion. What say you?

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Did Jack Harvey Make the Right Move?”

  1. The car that Jack Harvey is going to is the 30 car and crew and they are just changing numbers because Hy-Vee wanted to keep 45.

  2. Matthew Lawrenson Says:

    The theory I’ve heard is that Harv is good in qualifying, less so in races. Rahal is vice versa. So they should be able to help each other out.

    Sato has apparently lost some of his sponsorship – and that’s not good for a 45-year-old, 2 Indy wins or not. Midwesterners can expect to see smiling cutouts of Harv down at their local Hy-Vee quite soon, where those dreamy eyes will melt the hearts and fill the carts of young moms.

    • I agree with this comment.
      I also wonder if Harvey has been persuaded by much better $

      • Also have the feeling that Shank was mighty surprised JH quit followed by hidden anger.

        Don’t see Helio there in 23 when I see Pagenaud and a young charger.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Harvey may have made the right move and MSR may also have a bright future in nearly equal ways, not unlike how Graham Rahal leaving Chip Ganassi eventually worked out quite well for both parties, with Rahal eventually finding his footing and Ganassi restructuring his team into a more cohesive unit with more competitive “non-Target” cars.

    I’m sure the thought is that Harvey and Rahal’s respective strengths will benefit each other and for Harvey the change was most likely worth the shot. I think Pagenaud may be the guy to watch as much as Harvey, let’s see what a recent champion and race winner will do in MSR’s equipment.

  4. From my Sudafed addled brain…

    This is SPEC car racing. All the cars are the same….except for suspension setup … and there is where my pet peeve comes in. The glorification the driver is misplaced when only a part of the success is due to driving ability.

    I think Indycar racing success relies on a driver/engineer combination. A marriage if you will. If the two agree, everything is bliss, if the driver either can’t communicate problem areas or engineers can’t translate that into effective corrections then you have a mid-packer. If there is no common ground then you have a last place car.

    Think Schmidt/Peterson last year. A hero and a zero probably not based so much on driving ability but on car setup. Herta? Is he really that much better than all the rest? I doubt it. Granted there’s room for youth, testosterone, lack of wives/children arguments but I think the real deal here is engineering and where and how he got it.

    How will Harvey do ? A crapshoot depending on his new driver/engineer marriage.

    For wisdom look at Grosjean who moved to Andretti WITH his engineer. No flies on this guy.

  5. I think Shank made the wrong movie hiring Helio full time, it was emotionally charged for sure. I just don’t see them doing much in 2022 but Helio is better on off strategy than Harvey was (see Long Beach). But I think bringing in Pagenaud is the right move for that team. Harvey though? I am not sure, that remains to be seen. He’s had flashes that make me think he deserves more time in a car, more of an upside to recycling in, yet again, another trash heap driver like Pigot, Daly or Ed Jones, who I think we have seen the peak of.

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