Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver (part 1)

I am fascinated with young drivers. They face a host of challenges that Formula One drivers know all too well, yet somehow they all manage to stay professional and composed (for the most part). The Sunday before his GP3 debut, I had the chance to talk to Jack Harvey about his season ahead, and his life as a racing driver climbing the motorsport ladder.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Jack would become a racing driver. Like his father and uncle, Jack had an itch for racing, and he grasped every opportunity to race with both hands. Luckily, he turned out to be a pretty decent driver, and what started out as a hobby slowly turned into a more serious commitment.

“It was my dad who got me started,” explains Jack. “He’s done different forms of racing, my uncle still races. So really, looking back, it was just a matter of when I would start racing.” This type of mentality has been key in Jack’s racing career. He loves the sport and he loves that he has the opportunity to do something not many others can say they have done. By no means does this imply that his journey in racing was easy. He has incurred his fair share of trials and tribulations along the way.

But it all started on the fateful day of Jack’s 9th birthday. When he sat in the kart his father bought him, it was only a matter of time until Jack realized he had discovered his passion.

“We just went racing”, says Jack of those early days in karting. “There’s nothing– at that stage the racing is pure, you know, just sort of Dad and lad going racing, enjoying themselves. There’s no politics, it’s a very pure form of racing”. It was this purity that had Jack hooked onto the sport. In the days of modern Formula One, its hard to imagine that it all starts out so simple and almost naive in a way.

Racing today has evolved into a commercial enterprise, and the drivers are just another piece of the puzzle that makes up the industry. You start out young, you learn the ropes and you win championships. But then you’re groomed into a perfect racing specimen who, unlike the child of just a few years back, acts in a way that exudes a sort of ice-cold confidence. There are a few Formula One drivers who are criticized of this lack of emotion, but can you blame them?

But was it really just about having fun back then? As we know, both his father and uncle have racing experience, and the competitive spirit they both had was passed down to young Jack almost without question. “Even then I wanted to get good results, you know? That’s never changed to be honest. We wanted to have fun, but at the same time we wanted to be good at it.” This type of attitude kept Jack going in the early years, but soon, school would come to the fore and the challenge of balancing education with racing would begin.

“If you stick with it [racing] and start getting a little bit better, suddenly it doesn’t become your hobby, it becomes your chosen career and we’re very lucky that we can do that.”

This word, “luck”. I question the validity of Jack’s usage of the word, at least in this context. As you will learn, every amount of success Jack has enjoyed is a product of his own determination and ruthless desire to pursue his dream. Jack’s use of the word “we” struck me as well. His whole racing career up until, and continuing after, now has been a team effort. Without the help and determination of his family and the Racing Steps Foundation, Jack admits, he would probably still be karting. The fact that he will be starting his first GP3 race in a matter of days is something of a miracle when you think back to his early days in karts.

But when did Jack realize that racing could potentially be what he does with the rest of his life? His answer was a bit surprising, to be honest, but these types of decisions are not uncommon in the life of a racing driver, and the pressures of being sure about what you’re doing are at their peak almost 24/7.

“If we’re honest–honest with myself and with everybody, it was probably when I was about 11 or 12. I competed in the top junior formula in the UK and I went to the first race and I didn’t win but I was massively competitive and finished second. So we though ‘Right, we can do this, we can push it all the way’ and that year I think I was the youngest ever champion of the category.

That was the turning point where we realized that when we go racing the way we want to go, when we get into that zone, we can win.” It is this type of confidence and determination that has helped get Jack to where he is today. No racing driver makes it to GP3 by accident. It has been an integral part of the way he approaches any aspect of racing and his life away from the track, though the lines between the two can sometimes be a bit blurry.

With this success under his belt, Jack continued racing, trying to progress through the karting ranks. He was doing all the right stuff at that moment, taking the European championship in 2007. With this solid foundation laid in Europe, the stage was set for a breakthrough. It was a couple of years after Jack’s early career decision, and just one after his triumph in Europe, that the Racing Steps Foundation came a’knocking.

Jack was competing in a higher karting category in Europe for 2008 when he came into contact with the RSF. “We could never afford to go to single seaters. As a family that was well out of our budget and means. It was something we could never do, and I knew that so it was no big shock. What it did mean, was that my career was going to plateau at karting or I needed a way to get funding.”

Luckily, a fantastic 2008 season in karting, one in which he took all of the top championships, eased a fraction of the pressure. But by no means was his future in the sport secured. “It was a very solid season for me and the team”, Jack explains to me. “My dad got a phone call from Richard Goddard who, at the time, was living quite close to us and asked if we would like to go do a [formula] BMW test.” Jack emphasizes quickly, though, that this wasn’t an easy decision. With the family’s extremely limited budget, there was no point in shelling out all that money for the test because there was no money to build from it. They could either pay for him to do the test, enjoy it, and then go back to karting, or they could save the money for something in the future.

This only goes to highlight the pressures Jack was under at such a young age. In this harsh and unforgiving sport, decisions do not come easy, and there is always a long list of pros and cons for them, no matter how trivial the decision may seem at the time.

“In the end we came up with a bit of a deal with Richard and to be honest, the test went really well. Certainly a lot better than any of us hoped it would. I think we were pretty much on the lap record pace straight away.” It was this prodigious speed that kept the RSF intrigued.

In the middle of the racing season, jack got a phone call from the RSF saying they wanted to test him again. He would have to travel to Barcelona for this one, but certainly the fact that the Foundation called him meant something big could come of it.

“I had a really good test and in the end we were pretty competitive. The RSF said they would support me in 2009 through Formula BMW Europe, which was my first season of car racing.” This was a major breakthrough for Jack who, at just 16, had received the biggest backing in his short career in racing. He admits, rather relieved, that had the RSF not come to him, he would still be in karting.

If you read this and you think about what it must have been like, as Jack, to know that the future of your true passion in life rested in how you performed in one test then you’ve only heard half of the story. Education, as mentioned earlier, was a major player in the game of racing, and the task of balancing schoolwork and racing was no small feat. Jack admits that, while it was tough, managing his education was a fairly straightforward task. It required a lot of effort but it needed to be done.

“That was really tough, to be honest,” says Jack of his educational balancing act. “When you’re about 14-16 you do your GCSE’s, and for two years after that you do your A-levels.” The GCSE’s, while not easy, were a walk in the park, says Jack, when compared to his A-levels. The time that was needed to do them well was just barely there when the time for racing was taken into account. “It was a whole different kettle of fish,” when asked about his A-levels. It was his first year in Formula 3, a year that saw him win a race and finish 9th in the championship. This would be a great year for any rookie, and considering the additional pressures of his A-levels, this effort was extremely commendable.

“It took a lot to get used to the Formula 3 car, then suddenly, I was thrown into the deep end of school.” He explains to me that his finals came up in the middle of the season, putting an extra strain on a successful Formula 3 debut season.

“Looking back, I was happy with what I achieved. There was some correlation between my finals ending and my racing getting better.” This makes sense, though, because if we are to believe Jack when he said that the think of his A-levels came in the middle of the season, then their conclusion certainly saw an improvement in race results. With his solitary win that season coming right before the halfway point, the stage was set for a good run to the end of the season.

He realized this potential with 12 points finishes, four of them podiums. This sting of results secured him 9th in the championship and signaled the end of a very tough year of racing.

The next season in 2012 would go even better, though. Even with the continuation of his A-levels, Jack managed to seal the British F3 championship in convincing fashion, taking 9 wins in the season.

It is at this point that I take a step back from the conversation, still listening to (and recording) what Jack was saying. He was, at the time of the conversation, driving to France, and I came to realize that even though Jack doesn’t have to worry about school anymore, life won’t get any easier. If anything, it will get even harder. He will be making his GP3 debut this season; its a championship that often gets entangled in the crazy schedule of Formula One. The spotlight may be on him more, and the pressure will certainly mount, but Jack can take solace in the fact that he knows he can make it through the pressure and come out stronger.

Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle that Jack made it out of karts those years ago, but an unforseen inevitability.

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In the next addition of “Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver”, I will take a look at Jack’s season ahead and the pressures that come with being on the Formula One calendar and in a championship winning team, ART.

Follow Jack on twitter: @jack_harvey42

Image courtesy of Emma Stonier

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