Arrow SPM finds the dark cloud’s silver lining

(via – A wayward rival knocked both Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars out of contention on the opening lap of the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio, but even behind the cloud of gloom emerged some rays of light, as David Malsher explains.

Although no two IndyCar tracks are fully alike, a car that’s fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will often be quick at the series’ other big oval, Pocono Raceway; a fast car at Long Beach should be swift at another street course such as Toronto. And teams who had a handle on, say, Barber Motorsports Park and/or Road America should also prove rapid around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course. There are always exceptions, but it’s a reasonable rule-of-thumb.

Thus Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports headed to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio in positive frame of mind, having been top-five material at both Barber and Road America. Sure enough, James Hinchcliffe was in the top six in all three practice sessions at the 57-year-old track near Lexington, OH.

Unfortunately, however, the switch to Firestone’s red-sidewalled alternate compound tires for qualifying shifted the handling balance of the #5 Arrow SPM-Honda, and when a car ahead of him in Q2 went off and dragged dirt onto the track, it became inevitable that Hinch would fall a little short of his expectations, and miss the Firestone Fast Six shootout. Indeed, it was very creditable that he was less than 0.2sec short of making the grade. Still, IndyCar being as close as it is, that would mean he started the race from 11th on the grid.

Alongside him on the sixth row would be his teammate, Marcus Ericsson, who unusually used two sets of ‘reds’ to advance from Q1, the idea being to build his experience of – and confidence on – a compound tires which no one ever gets a chance to test. That’s always been a particularly tough situation for a rookie.

That strategic decision did mean Marcus tackled Q2 with a used set of these alternate-compound tires, so he too was unlikely to advance by beating those who had a fresh set, but the Swedish ex-Formula 1 driver did now have a feel for the extra grip that the reds offered, and so went into the race in a positive frame of mind. After all, raceday pace has been one of the team’s highest cards all year.

Unfortunately, neither driver got a chance to play it on this occasion. Unusually, Mid-Ohio’s long back straight that stretches from Turn 2 through a slight kink (Turn 3) down to Turn 4 is where IndyCar races start because this sequence is longer than the pitstraight and the theory is that this provides more time and more room for drivers to get themselves in order before the congestion of what effectively becomes the first turn. However, overambitious racecar drivers can still ruin things for themselves and others, and as Ericsson and Hinchcliffe ran through Turn 4 side by side, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato appeared to arrive too late and brake too late on the inside of Ericsson. The RLLR car made hard contact with Marcus’ car, bouncing him into James’ machine.

Hinchcliffe ran off the track and through the sandtrap on the outside of the corner and discovered that he now had a bent toelink on his rear suspension, while Ericsson incurred a bent front toelink and a right-rear puncture. Both Arrow SPM cars limped to the pits, and there the team repaired seen damage, sent Ericsson back out on Lap 18 and ultimately decided the damage to the #7 was much deeper and unsafe for driving, leaving a rueful Marcus to walk away.

He commented: “I was side-by-side with James when I got hit really hard by Sato, and that made me bounce into James and obviously damaged both of our cars. That ended our day. Very disappointing, especially since we had a good qualifying yesterday and a good warmup session where we knew we had a really strong racecar. I think we could have had a good race, but it was not our day.”

The #5 crew were able to fix James’ car but by the time he went back on track, he was three laps down and without the aid of a full-course caution, he was never going to claw back into the Top 20. However, grit and determination in the face of adversity has long been one of the team’s strong points, and Hinchcliffe returned to the fray hoping that if other cars failed to finish, he might be promoted from 22nd. No such luck. But he was able to go flat-out and land the fastest lap of the race.

“The Arrow #5 car was quick today but we didn’t get a chance to show it in the results,” he said afterward. It had just been one of those days.

If James’ ultimate pace was a boost – albeit one that created a whiff of what-might-have-been – the other ray of hope came courtesy of Jack Harvey. His Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM machine is only a part-time entry for now, but the team/driver combo that brought Arrow its first podium of the season, with third place in the wet IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis, was in fine form again at the weekend.

Sharing data with the Arrow SPM fulltimers, Harvey and his team found a good setup by the time qualifying began, and the two-time Indy Lights championship runner-up landed ninth on the grid.

From the start, Harvey was able to hang tough in the Top 10, and while he slipped to 11th in the second half of the race behind local hero Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden’s last-lap slip-up allowed the AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda to move up and capture 10th.

Harvey, who has been entered in only eight of the 13 races so far this year, told he was very encouraged by being able to leap into the car after being absent from the last two events and perform at a high level against full-timers.

He said: “It’s tough, no question about it, in a series when there’s so many good drivers and good teams, and the lap times between them all are so close together. But over the last two years I’ve been getting practice at doing it this way, and so maybe it’s become a little easier.

“This is such a special event for us, being Michael Shank’s home race, the MSR with Arrow SPM team’s home race, and a Honda-supported race, so we were pleased to have a strong run. At Road America last month we had felt a little bit rushed and weren’t quite where we needed to be pace-wise, but we were well prepared for this one and we hit the ground running.”

As well as feeling disadvantaged compared to fulltimers in terms of mileage and experience, IndyCar part-timers also often suffer in terms of pitbox placement. Given that pitbox order at each race is defined by the grid positions of the previous event, if a driver misses that race, he will of course find that he has the unwanted first pitbox after the pitlane entrance. That’s not so disadvantageous in the wide open space available at Pocono or Road America, but in the cramped confines of Mid-Ohio, a driver can lose precious tenths of a second in pitstops compared with his rivals. An IndyCar does not, after all, feature a huge amount of steering lock…

“That was a not-so-awesome pitbox,” smiled Jack. “Getting into and out of it was tricky. I was having to cut speed as soon as I got around the final bend of the pitlane, and I had to crank on a lot of steering to get in and get out, so I was losing time there compared with the others. Without that time loss, maybe we could have leapfrogged a car or two because our pitstops were good.

“Still, I’d say 10th was a pretty fair assessment of where we were on pace, and we ended up beating a lot of good cars and drivers, and keeping up with some very strong guys, too. But we’re competitors and we always want that little bit more.”

Race drivers who always race will always be race-fit, as the saying goes, but Harvey has become adept at maintaining his fitness levels even in downtime. Despite last weekend’s race featuring no caution periods – that are a chance for the drivers to ‘rest’, at least physically, during a race – and the track progressively ‘gripping up’ and therefore featuring increased G-loads, Jack said he felt no ill effects post-race.

“This race is tough and it always is, but I feel great,” he commented. “I’ve got an awesome gym in Indianapolis, Fit Flex Fly, and days like this on a really physical track is when I make sure I text them and say, ‘Thanks’ for getting me prepared. They’ve been great.”

Longer term, it’s no secret that Shank would like to maintain his partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and also go full-time. Harvey is hopeful that this latest strong performance is another step toward encouraging the team’s sponsors and partners to invest further.

“There are a lot of conversations going on, a lot of people working really hard to make it happen, so fingers crossed we’ll have something good to announce soon. When you see Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM – a part-time team – able to qualify just behind a Ganassi car and race with a Penske car, that’s got to be a sign that we’re doing things right…”

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