INSIGHT: Harvey weathers 2022’s perfect IndyCar storm

INSIGHT: Harvey weathers 2022’s perfect IndyCar storm

​Jack Harvey heard the rumors. In the weeks surrounding the season finale, the words circulating the paddock suggested the Briton was on the verge of being bought out of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing contract to be replaced by (insert Formula 2 driver’s name here) in 2023.

Coming off one of the worst seasons on record for any high-caliber IndyCar driver, Harvey knew the first of his two-year deal with RLL was the kind of thing that can lead to an early exit. A visit to the U.S. by Formula 2 driver Juri Vips and subsequent placement of the Estonian in a RLL IndyCar for an evaluation test at Sebring did little to dampen the speculation.

But with recent calls made to the team’s leadership to inquire about his future, the 29-year-old came away with full confidence and security in the fact that he’ll return to the No. 45 Honda and attack the new season with great purpose.

“My deal with RLL is a two-year deal with options, and moving forward, I’d heard names coming up as potential options for next year, but that’s what you get, especially when you’ve had the year that we’ve had,” Harvey told RACER. “So unfortunately, people get linked to your seat, but I would say that’s pretty natural. I’ve been on the other end of that where I was getting linked to people’s seat, so it’s just the nature of the beast.

“But I moved to RLL because they came to me, wanting me to be their driver; I didn’t actively seek to change teams. That was something they presented me because they wanted me here, and I came here based on what Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan and Piers all felt like we could achieve together. Clearly our year didn’t go very well, but I firmly believe next year will be incredibly different than the first.”

Coming off a run to 13th in the championship with Meyer Shank Racing in 2021 that featured a pair of fourths and six finishes inside the top 10, Harvey’s switch to RLL offered few highlights as a 10th-place outcome in Nashville was the only bright spot on the way to securing a career-worst 22nd in the drivers’ standings.

In his two full seasons with MSR, the team had the benefit of working with Andretti Technologies, which supplied engineers, chassis setups, and dampers that were progressively tuned to meet Harvey’s needs. With the change to a new team, the learning process between Harvey and RLL started anew and became a constant subject of improvement as the team got off to a slow start in 2022.

Opening the season with a run to 13th as teammate Christian Lundgaard took 11th and Graham Rahal finished seventh at St. Petersburg didn’t ring any alarm bells, but Harvey’s crash, concussion and absence from the second round on the Texas oval set a downward spiral in motion that framed the rest of his season.

Between trying to dig out of RLL’s early slump to trying to connect with a car that wasn’t always speaking his language to over-driving in an effort to force good results to happen, Harvey looks back on the season as one long experiment with an unsatisfying outcome.

“I think what’s difficult to really grasp about IndyCar is that on its own, it’s a spec series — everybody buys their cars from Dallara, the aerodynamics are spec, the engines from Honda and Chevy are incredibly close, so therefore all of the cars should be equal,” he added. “But they’re not. After all that, dampers are very open for development work and there’s so many different parts of the car that you can change to differentiate your car’s performance from that of the others.

“Looking back on the season, we’re probably a victim of ourselves. Knowing that we weren’t performing where we wanted to, we probably just kept trying too many things, but that’s what we chose to do, so no blame anywhere there. But I did one day of testing with the team before the season started and coming from what I’d known the last few years with MSR, almost immediately I got in the car and didn’t feel super comfortable with it.

“Certainly, I wish it was plug-and-play going from one team’s car to another, but with only one day in the car, we went into the season trying to pinpoint all the little things that could be changed to make me comfortable, and we weren’t as successful as we’d hoped to be. It’s not like I’m the first driver to experience this. We’ve seen, sometimes, where a driver goes to their new team and that first year is a learning year for them and everybody there. There’s so many variables to get right, and if you don’t find them immediately, it can be hard.”

Eager as he is to put 2022 behind him, Harvey is just as determined to learn from the experience. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

IndyCar drivers are thought of by some as steely characters who are fueled by immense inner confidence. The truth is, as Harvey admits, self-belief is also easily lost as his confidence was shot to hell well before the halfway point of the season.

“Oh, man, I think people forget that we’re athletes, but also human beings, and my job is results-dependent all the time,” he said. “So naturally, confidence swings based on how it’s going and frankly, this year, I felt pretty low in confidence. When I look back on the year, it really has been a perfect storm of a lot of bad things that really accumulated and turned into a bad season. I was so confident heading into the season. And part of what people don’t realize at this level is the difference between having a great weekend and a bad weekend is sometimes hundreds of separate things, tiny decisions, where if one goes wrong, it can snowball and then we’re all sitting there heartbroken.”

Harvey was 2022’s version of last year’s Felix Rosenqvist. The Swede’s 2021 season was an equally disastrous affair; after leaving Chip Ganassi Racing on a high and landing with Arrow McLaren SP, Rosenqvist found the car was incredibly difficult to drive — nothing like what he had at CGR — and suffered through a rough introduction to his new team that was well worth forgetting.

Rebounding upon his return with a car that was better suited to his needs, Rosenqvist’s confidence and strong results were restored last season, and it’s here where Harvey saw parallels to their debuts and sought input from the AMSP ace on how to weather the disappointments during his first year with RLL.

Harvey looks to Felix Rosenqvist’s relaunch this year as an example for him to emulate in 2023. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

“You have to try and remind yourself that it can be better,” he said. “I spent some time chatting with Felix this year about it. People were writing him off after he had a bad season, and I remember distinctly that he’s an exceptionally talented guy, been good at everything he’s ever done, and now it seems like he’s about to be let go. Then he came back this year and he’s had a great season. Well, that’s what I want for ourselves next year, and it’s been a regrouping effort and Felix had some good wisdom to share on how he went through the process of getting back to a more natural state of things for him.

“I’ve been recharging myself, and frankly, having some fun since the season ended. I think that’s this one thing I forgot to do this year. In a lot of ways, when the checkered flag dropped in Laguna, I was almost relieved that we can just turn the page, take a breath, and go after getting ready for the new season with the slate wiped clean.

“There’s clear things that the team needs to improve. There’s clear things that I, as the driver, need to improve. And we need to keep having some honest conversations on our strengths and our weaknesses to address and improve where it’s needed.”

One of Harvey’s finer attributes, which can often be seen in his driving style, is a strong fighting spirit. Of all the things that felt strange or wrong last season, his inability to charge forward and make daring passes was in direct conflict with Harvey’s natural state on the racetrack. Reclaiming that spirit is among his greater goals for 2023.

“I am, by nature, extremely competitive and having a bad race does put me in a little bit of a bad mood,” he said. “Having a bunch of bad races was like a new territory for me. I’m used to being strong and focused, driving with intent and determination. I feel that hunger and desire to not have a year like this again. I don’t go to the track to achieve their results we’ve had; I don’t want them attached to my name. So I’m returning to have better results attached for me and the team. I’m only thinking about maximum attack.”