Reinvigorated Servia ready for more in 2017 INDYCAR season

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What says “I’ll be back” more than seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger while working out at Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles?

Oriol Servia was already a man on a mission, an experienced driver committed to landing a fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series ride, when the inspired 42-year-old Spaniard rededicated himself in the offseason. Eyeing Arnold in the morning as well as shaping up with a new diet has been invigorating for Servia, who said he has a three-race deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the upcoming season and is looking for more.

“I don’t seem to be done with it,” Servia said. “I really love it and miss it.

“I stumbled into a new diet I like a lot and I feel better than ever, a new type of workout. I joined Gold’s Gym, which happens to be two blocks from my house. I see Arnold Schwarzenegger there many mornings. I do, literally I do.”

Servia is scheduled to make his 200th career start in May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by Penn Grade Motor Oil, then will drive in the two Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix races -- all as a teammate to full-season driver Graham Rahal. He hopes there will be more opportunities down the road. 

His last fulltime ride was in 2012, but temporary seats in the past two years stirred his desire.

“A couple of things happened in the last year or so which were part of why I really got reignited with trying to do everything I could to get a full season,” Servia said. “The last three years I was involved in a Formula E project (with Dragon Racing). I drove a little bit first, then I was managing the team. I wasn’t working out.

“Then when Justin (Wilson) passes (in 2015) and they ask me to drive the car, I wasn’t ready, blah, blah, blah, I didn’t work out, I jump in and I struggle. I suffered so much that weekend because physically I couldn’t even drive. But in qualifying, I ended up decent and in the race I was running really well. I still have it.”

A close friend of the departed driver, Servia was the Wilson family’s choice for the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He finished 12th for Andretti Autosport in just his second race that year.

He wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance and, once again, he came away from the experience with more conviction to keep driving. Team Penske called at the last minute to take over Will Power’s pole-winning car in the 2016 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, when Power was suffering nausea and other symptoms from an inner-ear infection.

“At St. Pete, with Power’s (health) issue, it’s even more exaggerated because I didn’t even get to drive Friday, Saturday or the offseason,” Servia said. “I jump into the car, the car was obviously great, it was on pole. In the warmup, I was P9 on a full tank and old tires and I get out of the car and I didn’t even know what position (I was), I could hardly breathe. (team president) Tim Cindric looks at me and says, ‘Hey, you’re P9 and you’re actually P1 in the two sectors at the back.’

“That was like, ‘If I just get an opportunity and I prepare for once …’”

Servia finished 18th in that race, then 12th in the Indianapolis 500 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Marotti Racing. He was still visible at other races as he networked to try to put together funds for a fulltime ride in 2017.

“It’s just like these little things made me think, ‘Let’s see, if it comes together, I think I’ll have the best year ever,’” he said. “Then the team that has been the best Honda calls me and wants me. If we can put it together, I’ve felt all along this could be my best season and maybe we can make something out of this.”

Servia has started six races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, most recently the 2015 Indy 500, where he finished 29th. A four-race stint in 2014 included finishing seventh at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and 11th in the Indy 500. His first start for the team was in 2009, when he finished 26th in the Indy 500.

An eight-time Indy 500 starter, Servia’s best result was fourth in 2012 with Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The 1999 Indy Lights champion has 51 top-five finishes in an Indy car career that started in 2000. His lone victory came in a Champ Car race at Montreal in 2005 for Newman/Haas Racing, the season he finished second to teammate Sebastien Bourdais for the championship. He’s also had eight seconds and 10 thirds.

His conversation with RLL co-owner Bobby Rahal about the three-race ride in 2017 included the possibility of putting something together for the rest of the season.

“When Bobby called me and wanted to go for the same, I was super excited,” Servia said. “It’s a team I’ve been on many times and I like them a lot. The last two years, they’ve been really amazing, finishing as the highest Honda in the championship both years, fourth and fifth. Being a single-car team, I think it speaks volumes, fighting who they were fighting.

“So I couldn’t have been more excited. I’ve seen them up close and I know all of the engineers very well that work there. That’s one of the big reasons they’re doing really well.”

Upon learning the 101st Indianapolis 500 would be his 200th career start, he sounded even more enthused.

“I guess we’re going to have to win it,” Servia said. “That would make for a good story, right?”

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