Jack Harvey watched as Spencer Pigot celebrated winning the 2015 Indy Lights championship and took stock of all he’d lost by finishing runner up that day in Monterey. Two years and six wins into his Lights adventure, the Briton was left without the sponsorship to continue his climb toward IndyCar. Pigot, the beneficiary of a graduation prize that included racing at the 2016 Indy 500, punched his ticket to IndyCar and was eventually picked up by the Ed Carpenter Racing team where he drives today.
Zach Veach followed a similar path during his three seasons in Lights. Six wins confirmed his talent, but a best championship finish of third in 2014 ensured his dream of competing in IndyCar would take longer than desired.
Together, the Indy 500 rookies – Jack at the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda teamv (ABOVE), and Zach with the AJ Foyt Racing Chevy program (BELOW) – are ready to make their mark after years of overcoming obstacles.
“We all know when we get into the Mazda Road to Indy program that it rewards winning,” Harvey told RACER. “I think that’s what’s so exciting about doing Indy Lights; if you win the championship, it progresses you up to the next level. We certainly had the pace, but things didn’t quite fall our way and it’s such a cliff to fall off from if you don’t win it all. We know that if we don’t secure the championship, we have nothing.”
Veach, by comparison, has been more fortunate, but only slightly so. Harvey’s last open-wheel race came in September of 2015 while Veach was able to find more sponsorship to give Lights a third and final try in 2016. Although he didn’t win the title, he was able to build a relationship with Ed Carpenter’s team and filled in for the injured JR Hildebrand at Barber Motorsports Park in April.
Despite the brief chance to make his IndyCar debut as a one-off with ECR, Veach’s road to IndyCar has been filled with the same hurdles that Harvey has faced.
“Nothing’s really ever came easy for me, and I’m not being critical when I say that; it’s something that’s definitely created a work ethic that I have and it never lets me take no for an answer. I think guys like Jack have that as well,” Veach said.
“The Mazda Scholarship is a tremendously great thing for young guys, but that’s life, and it’s only one champion per year. We came close a couple times and when we didn’t get it, it just meant going to IndyCar would be something I had to bust my butt for. Yeah, it didn’t happen as quickly as we wanted it to, but we’re grinders. We didn’t quit until we got here.”
Harvey uses the same word to describe his efforts to land an Indy 500 seat for his series debut.
“You get a bit of good news and then it goes away, and there’s a little bit of good news, and you’re just hoping that it’s going to evolve into something and that’s where that continual grind has kind of come from,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to get into IndyCar since the [Lights] season ended in 2015, we’ve been close more than once, and suddenly, it all comes together. People who think we’ve just stumbled into this seat don’t realize the amount of effort that’s gone into making it happen. Honestly, if it hadn’t have come together, it would’ve been difficult to keep rebounding all the time.”
Veach tried to make the jump to IndyCar after the 2014 Lights season, spent 2015 on the sidelines, barring a little bit of work in IMSA, and made the rare choice to go back to Lights in 2016 to take another shot at the graduation prize that ultimately went to series champion Ed Jones.
As Jones enjoys his rookie IndyCar season with Dale Coyne Racing, Harvey and Veach will join him at Indy while serving as inspirations for most of the drivers competing in Indy Lights this year.
“There’s going to be one driver who gets that championship and they’ll have an easier time than the rest who don’t,” Veach said. “But they can see how some of us use our motivation to go out and find somebody that will help you to make IndyCar possible. It goes to show when it’s meant to happen, it will. It’s all just timing.”