Verizon IndyCar Series hopefuls Jack Harvey and Zachary Claman De Melo endured a day of highs and lows testing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on Thursday at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which will host The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio from July 29-31.
Leading into the test, Piers Phillips, general manager of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, had high praise for both drivers and discussed the thought process in testing Claman De Melo, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires rookie and Juncos Racing driver.
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“With Zachary we have one of Indy Lights’ brightest stars,” Phillips said. “He undoubtedly has a very bright future ahead of him and the chance to get him in one of our cars is something Sam (Schmidt, team co-owner) and myself have been keen on for quite some time.
“Success is all about continuity and relationship, and having Zachary (shown at right) have his first run in an Indy car with SPM is the start of that relationship.”
Phillips also thought it important to bring back Harvey, a two-time Indy Lights championship runner-up for Schmidt Peterson who also tested an SPM Indy car last season at Sonoma Raceway. INDYCAR offers testing incentives to teams that give Indy Lights drivers the chance to experience driving an Indy car.
“On that day (at Sonoma), Jack was extremely impressive and very fast,” said Phillips. “His technical feedback and debriefing prowess were exemplary. It was an easy choice to have Jack join us (at Mid-Ohio) to continue his relationship with our team.”
Harvey stepped behind the wheel of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, normally driven by 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter James Hinchcliffe, and quickly found pace during the morning session.
However, just before lunch the 23-year-old from Bassingham, England, spun in Turn 6 and made contact with the wall, causing irreparable damage and putting an end to his day.
“We were doing some setup changes with the car, which were going really well up to that point,” said Harvey, the 2012 British Formula 3 champion who has won six Indy Lights races, losing the 2014 championship on a tiebreaker to Gabby Chaves and finishing 27 points behind ’15 champ Spencer Pigot. “Just rode the curb like I normally did. I was on power and the rear came around and I couldn’t quite catch it in time, which was disappointing.
“Up to that point, everything was going really well. It was like a dream day up to that point.”
Harvey was justifiably disappointed but understood the team knows that crashing isn’t typical of the Brit.
“You don’t want to have that sort of accident on a test day, especially when I’m borrowing someone’s car,” said Harvey (shown in the No. 5 Honda at right). “Feeling pretty bad about that. Since I’ve been in America, I’ve only had like one other crash so I’m not typically a crasher.
“Luckily the team knows that, but it doesn’t take away the sting of today.”
Although a deal prior to the season to put the former Freedom 100 winner in an Indy car seat never came to fruition, Harvey said he is still pursuing an opportunity for a Verizon IndyCar Series ride in 2016 and beyond.
“It’s no secret that we’re hoping to put something together,” Harvey said. “Watkins Glen would be great, maybe Sonoma, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. The goal is really the same. I want to be racing in the series.
“I know today wasn’t the best day, but when I tested last year and with what I’ve achieved in (Indy) Lights, I think I can take the step.”
Claman De Melo drove Mikhail Aleshin’s No. 7 SMP Racing Honda. The 18-year-old Canadian managed a full day, although his morning session was shortened when he also went off track.
Even with the morning hiccup, the Juncos Racing driver impressed Phillips, saying Claman De Melo “was quick, gave good feedback and is very coachable.”
The solid test may warrant another for Claman De Melo. Phillips also said options remain open for Harvey, including a possible third Schmidt Peterson entry.
“It is clear to anyone who has watched Jack throughout his career, he has got what it takes to be at the top,” the first-year SPM general manager said. “Pole positions, race wins, championships and a very mature head on his shoulders, all of which point to the complete package.
“Too many teams can grow too quickly and it is all part of the discussions to ensure that if we were to branch out to a fulltime third car entry that the team is ready and have the foundation to do so correctly,” he added. “We have proved in the past that the team is more than capable of running a competitive three-car operation as a one-off event. Putting a fulltime third entry together is a slightly different challenge.
“But never say ‘never.’”