Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver (part 2)

It’s time to get back to reality. Talking about the early years is fun, but as Jack Harvey knows very well racing is a constant process of progress.

2013 promises to be one of the most significant seasons of Jack’s career, not only because of the the high profile nature of GP3, but because he enters the season the reigning champion of one of the most respected junior categories in racing, British Formula 3.

On the subject of British F3, the near demise of the series for 2013 hits close to home. As the reigning champion of the series, he knows the ins and outs of doing well in that environment and the great memories that can come when you get everything right over the course of the season. The reduction of the championship to just four rounds has sent shockwaves throughout the racing world and many have scrambled to come up with possible solutions to the increasing complexity of the junior categories, as well as their seemingly reducing longevity.

“I think for someone who wanted to compete in Formula 3 for a full season, it means that you have to go into Europe,” says Jack of the implications of the calendar reduction this year. “Budgets are high and budgets are tight and its really expensive. Its a tough one. The economy is not in a good place, and if the drivers are not there then they have to cut the championship down.” But, as Jack knows, and perhaps all of us know, British F3 never really goes away. It has been an integral championship for decades now, and has produced some of the greatest racing drivers in history. “Its such an important championship for anyone moving forward,” says Jack of British F3’s role in racing. “I hope a sort of deal can be worked out to where we get the full amount of races for next season. Even if it’s cut down to just four rounds, I’m still happy the championship is still around.”

It is at this point that I ask Jack about what really sets British F3 apart form other categories of Formula 3. His answer makes it apparent that the championship occupies a very important place in Jack’s and many British drivers’ hearts.

It is the quality, he says. He talks about drivers, circuits, teams and challenges that all work together to make the series such a mecca for skill and a source of talent. As reigning champion, this puts him in good stead for his first season in GP3.

Jack approached this season with some assurance in his backing from the RSF. They planned to support him for 2013 pretty much regardless of whatever happened in 2012, so his future was secure for at least one more season. “Ultimately, it was their [RSF] decision to put me where they felt was best for me to be, and they saw GP3 and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity, really.” says Jack of his 2013 plans.

As if the switch to such a high profile championship wasn’t enough for one year, Jack was preparing to make the change just as GP3 was making changes itself. In its fourth season, GP3 will be changing to new cars which, as testing has shown, offer a lot more in terms of performance, speed and, most importantly, challenges. But, as Jack tells me, the new generation of cars in GP3 was more important than we may realize. “I think it made the decision, really [to go into the championship]. If they had the old car, we would have looked at World Series by Renault, something more maybe. But I think the new car sold it to us, really.”

It’s almost as if the generational switch for GP3 this year was meant to be. Had the series stuck with the old car, the difference between the performance of the GP3 car and an F3 car would be almost indiscernible. But, the move from F3 to World Series by Renault would potentially be a step up too far. Those monsters are meant to be the final step before Formula One, and as such, their performance is more akin to that of an F1 car. Coming from F3 to that series could have hurt, rather than helped, Jack.

With this context in mind, I asked Jack if he will approach this season with the mindset of learning, rather than gunning for the championship. I have never heard anyone answer “no” as quickly as did Jack. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. In the 25 minutes I had been speaking with Jack, I had already gotten a fantastic insight into his competitive nature and his determination to succeed. The conviction with which he answered no was really all I needed to get a sense of his mindset for the season, but, as this was an interview (and that Jack is beautifully PR-trained), the answer didn’t stop there. “With the experience I have now, we should be pushing to win the championship all the time, basically. I don’t think anything has changed in that perspective.”

Jack is not denying how tough this season will be by any means, though. He is fully aware that, as a rookie, expectations are not as high for him as they are for more seasoned veterans of the championship. But Jack won’t let that faze him, though, and he is wholly confident in his ability to fight for the title. “It’s going to be a tough year in GP3, but we’ve got the right ingredients to win, so ultimately we have to wait and see. But we are certainly not looking at a long program in GP3, it’s definitely a one-year plan, to try and win straight away.”

Even the fact that his team, ART, won the teams’ championship last season doesn’t affect his approach. One would imagine that having groomed the likes of Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierez and James Calado, ART would put the fear of God into any driver. The level of excellency the team holds their drivers to is stratospheric, yet this is just another small piece to a much larger puzzle for Jack. His approach to this year is extremely level-headed and mature. But what else would you expect considering his previous experiences?

All of this, however, leads up to this weekend. I must point out again that as I write this second installment, Jack is in the thick of the racing weekend, with the first (and only) free practice session having been completed earlier this day (Friday). I asked Jack what he would be doing in the days preceding the start of the weekend in order to prepare himself for his GP3 debut. “I’m driving back to France now to get ready for the start of the season. I have a day in the simulator as well.” It all seems pretty normal, really. The team is French and as such, much of his time this season will be spent making trips between his home and the team’s headquarters. But as for race weekend preparation, it is all normal, even though there isn’t much that is all too normal about his job.

But what does Jack do personally to make sure he is ready for the weekend. What types of mental checks does he do to ensure he performs at his best? Cue long and drawn out pause.

As he grapples for an answer, I kind of realize that I’ve asked the impossible question. For all the calculations and double-checks one does to make sure anything runs smoothly, there is always the luck factor that plays into the equation. Is there really anything he can do to make himself more prepared? He is obviously an expert by now at how to win, but in the end there is only so much one can do.

But, as with any PR-trained racing driver, Jack eventually finds a way to respond.

“I don’t know really, to be honest. We always know what job we’ve got to try and do, and if anything we just have to try and stay in the zone, if there is one out there. For as much as you try and focus on the race, you actually try and stay chill and not worry about the race if you get me?”

I do get him. Without delving too much into my personal life (I’m boring and this isn’t about me), I know what its like to have a job in front of you with a lot riding on said job. Preparation can only go so far, and at some point you have to just let go and let things happen naturally. Jack knows well enough that if you do all the right things without worrying too much, things will eventually come. Just ask him about how he was discovered by the RSF again.

“It is a funny one, really,” says Jack of his preparation. “It’s tough to know what to focus on. You need to be so adaptive and able to zone in, zone out sort of at the flick of your fingers, almost.”

This is something young drivers know all too well. You can always have a plan. That is perfectly fine, in fact it’s commendable. But once you start to become complacent, you ruin everything you ever worked for. Racing in junior categories like GP3 and Formula 3 means your fate, every race weekend, largely falls in the hands of young drivers just like you who want what you want just as much as you. To have come this far without any major career scare is something not a lot of people can lay claim to.

Perhaps this is what Jack needs to keep in mind this season. He has come this far in his career and he has everything going for him. It’s just a matter of luck at this point. Nothing is guaranteed in this sport, and no matter how hard the team and Jack prepare, nothing is going to stop the unexpected.

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In the next and final installment of “Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver”, I will be looking at the future, something all of us really know nothing about, other than how we want it to turn out.

You can follow Jack on Twitter: @jack_harvey42

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