Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing ushered in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the flashiest of ways on Thursday, unveiling the teams’ three cars that will compete this year with an attention-grabbing presentation at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
The home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts served as an impressive backdrop for the unveiling that streamed on Facebook Live. It also drove home the message that the two teams that work with a technical partnership are not messing around this season.
“What this shows is SPM is committed to being a top-level organization, both on track and off,” said James Hinchcliffe, who returns to drive the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda again in 2018. “To get all your partners together in one place; to get a bunch of fans local and from out of town to come here, really make them feel part of the show, feel involved; you have all the drivers, all the owners; you have media, you live stream it.
“This is, I think, the way of the future. It shows the professionalism that we’ve got and hopefully it’s something that we see more teams do in the future.”
The event was not open to the public, with SPM allowing the first 100 or so fans to respond to a social media invitation to attend. They came from as far as Missouri, Michigan and Ohio and were rewarded with autographs, photos and relaxed time to talk with the drivers and team representatives. They were also afforded a close-up look at the three cars, each with the signature chrome-tinted livery designs that SPM debuted last year.
Major sponsor representatives were also on hand, including Forrest Lucas, founder and president of Lucas Oil whose name adorns the stadium where the unveiling took place and whose company will be on the sidepod of Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Robert Wickens’ entry this season.
Wickens, a longtime friend of fellow Canadian Hinchcliffe who is returning to his open-wheel roots after spending the past five years in the DTM touring car series, was impressed as well with the unveiling. It allowed him to see his No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for the first time.
“Today shows that we’re here to be taken seriously,” Wickens said. “We’re showing that we’re a very professional team.
“This is my first car unveil. I was a (Formula 1) reserve driver with Virgin in 2011 but I wasn’t the reserve driver during the unveil, so I wasn’t there. … This is a special moment for me and hopefully sets the tone for what we’re going to be like this year.”
Jack Harvey will drive the No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM Honda from Michael Shank Racing, which will work from its own shop in Ohio but benefit from the technical partnership with SPM. Harvey, the two-time Indy Lights runner-up, made his and the Shank team’s Verizon IndyCar Series debut in last year’s Indianapolis 500 in a partnership with Andretti Autosport.
Harvey will drive in six races this season – “hopefully more,” according to Shank. The 24-year-old Brit loves the look of the No. 60 pink chrome entry he’ll be driving this year.
“I think the car looks awesome,” Harvey said. “I think it’s very fitting with AutoNation’s #DrivePink campaign, which is targeted to breast cancer awareness. I’m very grateful that AutoNation and SiriusXM both have stayed on with me and actually expanded the program in 2018 with a multiyear agreement. Honestly, I’m feeling very lucky.”
Hinchcliffe and Wickens have both tested the 2018 Indy car with the new universal aero kit and will do so again in team testing Monday at Sonoma Raceway in California before heading to ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway) for the Verizon IndyCar Series open test Feb. 9-10. Harvey’s first time in the car is scheduled to be later this month at Sebring International Raceway, shortly before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend from March 9-11.
SPM co-owner Ric Peterson said the unveiling is a true sign that the team is set to come out strong this season after what he termed a very disappointing 2017.
“The biggest thing it says is we’re not scrambling at the last minute for partners,” Peterson said. “They’ve been done quite some time ago and they’re all committed long term. We’ve done a lot of work in the offseason and the team is ready to go. People are in place, drivers are in place and partners are in place.”
In addition to signing Wickens and arranging the partnership with Shank Racing and Harvey, SPM made several behind-the-scenes changes to strengthen itself. Seeing their cars in shiny new liveries has the drivers chomping at the bit to put them into action.
“The additions that have been made to the team have been incredible,” said Hinchcliffe, entering his eighth Verizon IndyCar Series season. “We’ve strengthened every area, every department of this race team.
“For us, it’s exciting,” he added of the unveil event. “It’s kind of like that next step. We know it’s getting closer. We’ve got Phoenix coming up and everybody’s excited just to get everybody on track and see where you stack up.
“It’s going to be a tough year. There’s a lot of changes with the series as a whole, within our team specifically, but everybody’s very excited.”
Watch a recap of the unveiling here: