British drivers gear up for Indy 500

Friday 26 May 2023

This Sunday (May 28) the green flag will wave on the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500, one of motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’ races and one of the biggest on the North American calendar. Taking place on the same day as Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix, and just a few weeks before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Indy 500’s traditional May date puts it in a typically spectacular time of year.

Available for viewers in the UK to watch from 5:30pm Sunday on Sky Sports F1, no less than four British drivers were entered amongst the 33 starters, although only three will see the green flag after Stefan Wilson, who had qualified 25th, was unfortunately caught up in an incident during post-qualifying practice on Monday.

One of the big stories heading into this year’s 500 is the spectacular effort from Jack Harvey and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team, who made the coveted final starting position in his last-chance qualifying run last Sunday. Multiple stages of qualifying take place in the build-up to the race, culminating in ‘Bump Day’, where those 34th or lower are ‘bumped’ out of the event. In a thrilling climax to the day Harvey just made it through, but at the expense of teammate Graham Rahal – whose father Bobby co-owns the team.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of pressure before,” Harvey commented when asked about that final qualifying effort. “Bump Day is an Indy 500 tradition but, as a team, we have four cars out there and three of them were in last-chance qualifying. So, we can talk about me bumping out Graham (Rahal), but it was pretty poor that we were even in that situation.”

“Nobody wants to bump out their teammate, and I’m actually very good friends with Graham as well, so that made it even worse,” he added. “However, I want to be in the race, so I was very focused, very present, trying to hit all my marks and go as quickly as I could. It’s a day I’ll never forget and, if I could say something humble, I’d say I performed well. It’s a high-pressure moment and I’d be okay if we didn’t have to participate in Bump Day again!”

After moving to the Indianapolis area ten years ago, Harvey has come through the Indy Lights feeder series where he finished runner-up in 2014 and ’15 before making his IndyCar debut two years later. As well as being his second home, Indianapolis is a special place for Harvey, with several strong results at the speedway including an Indy Lights win in 2015.

“I’m grateful that I do typically run quite well at the speedway, whether it’s on the oval or on the road course (Harvey qualified fourth for the road course race earlier in May). However, I don’t ever take it for granted, and I never take being in the Indy 500 for granted either, seeing how close we were to not being on the grid. There’s never a moment I come to the speedway with complacency.”

In his early karting days, Harvey – who hails from Lincolnshire – was picked up by the Racing Steps Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation founded by Graham Sharp to ‘finance, support and manage the futures of more than 20 of the UK’s most promising drivers and (motorcycle) riders.’

“Without their support, I wouldn’t have ever left karting,” Harvey said of Racing Steps. “Karting was our peak (financially), so they gave me the opportunity to step into open-wheel racing (in Formula BMW in 2009). Without them, none of this would have happened. I look back on it with a smile on my face and with gratitude at the same time.”

After two years in Formula BMW, Harvey switched to the then British F3 championship and won the title in 2012 against the likes of current Ferrari Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz and former Red Bull-backed junior Alex Lynn. His move to the States followed in 2013 after a season in GP3 (now FIA F3), where he finished fifth in the standings.

Fast-forward back to 2023 and it’s been a tough season so far for Harvey but, for now, just making the green flag on Sunday is something he’s immensely proud of, for both himself and the RLL team, and there’s less pressure going into the big race.

“As big a race as the Indy 500 is, I actually feel the least amount of pressure now, because there were moments where I didn’t think we were going to be in the race. Now, it’s just a bonus, so we can allow ourselves a bit more risk in our strategy. Obviously I don’t want to get into any crashes, but I think the attitude is one of pretty low pressure, and we’re just going to go out there and have some fun.”

Lining up two positions ahead of Harvey on the grid will be another RLL car, driven by one of the leading female drivers to come out of the UK and a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport commission Katherine Legge. Having raced predominantly in North America, with multiple stints in IndyCar and most recently the IMSA Sportscar Championship for Acura, this is her first Indy 500 start in ten years.

Callum Ilott will start 28th. Taking part in his second full IndyCar season with the Indianapolis-based Juncos Hollinger Racing team, Ilott returns to the event after breaking his hand in a crash during last year’s race.

The 24 year-old from Cambridge has had a bumpy build-up to the event, with an ill-handling car through testing and practice being deemed ‘too unsafe’ to race – prompting a chassis change not long before the qualifying stages began.

As a result, just making the race was a success for Ilott, who is a Ferrari Academy driver and finished runner-up to Mick Schumacher in the 2020 FIA Formula 2 championship. His career-best IndyCar finish of fifth was scored in February’s season-opener on the challenging St.Petersburg street course in Florida.

The overall pole was taken by 2021 champion Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) with an average speed of 234.217mph. Elsewhere, Graham Rahal will take part in the race after all, substituting for the injured Wilson.

Viewers in the UK can watch the Indy 500 this Sunday (May 28) from 5:30pm on Sky Sports F1.

Final practice is also live on Sky Sports F1 today (May 26) at 9pm.