After knocking on IndyCar's door for a number of years, Christmas came early for Jack Harvey earlier this month as he announced a part-season deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing for 2018.

Harvey has long stood out as one of the UK's brightest single-seater talents, having twice finished as runner-up in Indy Lights, and looked poised for a good result on debut in last year's Indianapolis 500 before getting caught up in an unavoidable incident.

Two further run-outs followed late in the year at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, but Harvey is now gearing up for his first sizeable racing campaign since 2015. caught up with him to talk about his new deal with Michael Shank, his hopes for 2018 and the growth of IndyCar in the UK.

The Shank/SPM deal is now all official and out in the open. It must be nice to have the contract all sewn up and signed, meaning you're not going into the winter guessing what you’re going to be doing next year?

Jack Harvey: Oh absolutely. That was such a big thing that we were hoping to get done. The last few years have been tough. We’ve kind of gone into Christmas not knowing. It’s hard to enjoy the holidays, honestly, when it’s like that because you’re so anxious about getting everything sorted and hoping stuff will come together etc.

I think for Michael as much as me really, we wanted this programme to be locked away as quickly as possible. I think pretty much everything got agreed in the middle of November and we waited until the PRI show to announce it last week. But to get it done and get it out there, honestly there’s so much relief. That’s one of the biggest feelings we get from it all.

Certainly even this week, I feel pretty relaxed already which is amazing. I’m very happy to get it done and dusted. It was a lot of hard work, but it’s nice to be at this point.

How did the deal come about? You’ve worked with both parties before and did two races with Shank/SPM to the end of last season as well. Was it a case of rolling that on?

JH: Yeah, kind of. What was interesting was that the way I even came to work with Michael in the first place was obviously because Fernando [Alonso] came to do the Indy 500. That shuffled me from the Andretti fifth car to a joint effort between Michael and Andretti. I had a great experience with him. The result at Indy wasn’t awesome, I think that’s fair to say, but we did have a very good debut.

What I saw from the month was a group of people who work extremely hard, who can support you when you’re having a bad time, even though I don’t believe any of the problems that we had were either of our faults, they just kind of happened. Michael stuck with me the whole month. We had a really good debut, and then bad luck struck and we hit some debris, couldn’t get out of the way of it in time, and obviously didn’t finish the race.

We kept in contact with Michael, met him straight in Detroit afterwards which was literally the following weekend, and said ‘hey we’re looking at trying to put this together, would you be interested?’ He said yes. He was a little reserved about it. I think he tried not to get too excited until we made some headway and progress. And that conversation just kept happening really. We were able to get him to speak with our sponsors, we kept speaking to them.

The whole time me and my management team were pretty adamant that Michael was the right person to try and do this effort with. I’m very confident with him and his whole team of people. They’ve totally embraced me from the first time that I got to the track with them. Obviously the nice part of this deal is that it’s going to be a technical partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. Sam is the guy who brought me to the States.

It’s really the collaboration of two really great teams, one team who I think have been successful in IndyCar and I think will be very successful next season, and another team who have got an extremely high winning history in Michael Shank. So to be able to go with both teams that I raced with last year as a collaborative effort is amazing.

What's your racing programme looking like with Shank and SPM next year?

JH: We’re going to do a minimum of six races. The first three are confirmed and concreted down. The first three are going to be St. Petersburg, Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500. The next three, honestly, they’re looking at doing one of five I would say races right now. We’re just trying to figure out which races make sense for me, which races make sense for our sponsors and which ones make sense for Michael. We would both love to see the programme expand and try and get to seven or eight races for the year, but the minimum we will do is six.

Going back to the Indy 500 will be a big thing. It is 'the greatest spectacle in motor racing', but also going back to where your IndyCar career started last year, the aim will be to get a better result - and a bit more luck!

JH: Oh absolutely. We were really thrilled to be able to go back to the ‘500 in any capacity. I think any driver who gets to do that is extremely lucky. Your luck continues as you get to do it more than one time. So to get to go back for my second time is going to be pretty awesome. I think if we look at last year, we know what the problems were. We know where they came from. I think actually having this whole programme in place with Michael and having done a couple of races before we even get to Indy, I think that’s going to be worth a significant amount.

Last year the first time that car went out was Rookie Orientation. It was really like being thrown in at the deep end for me and for Michael, where this year that whole team of people will have had the opportunity to run a couple of times. That was worth a lot to me, that was worth a lot to Michael. I do believe that we had a really good day brewing. So to get the opportunity to go back with Michael and try and show everybody how good a job we were doing and that I can do will be pretty special I think for the both of us.

What kind of expectations do you have going into this part-season campaign? You’ve had a few races under your belt in the series, can you now set any firm goals for this year?

JH: Michael has tried pretty hard to set us realistic targets and explain them to our sponsors and explain them to be. I think all drivers can sometimes get a bit carried away with what they want to achieve. Michael has said he would like to see us transition into a top 12 in qualifying as many times as we go, which hopefully will be three as a minimum. And we would like to race forward into the top 10. I think for me, for Michael, if we’re running 14th or 15th then we’ll probably risk something. I think for both of us finishing there is not where we want to be. I think qualifying, the top 14, transition into the top 12 would be pretty good, and to race and finish in the top 10 would be pretty awesome as well.

I think really the plan for this whole programme is to try and see it grow into something full-time, and if we’re achieving all those targets, you don’t know, I think the opportunity of surprising a few people is pretty high. If you’re running in that position and the yellow goes your way or something like that, a podium wouldn’t be unachievable. My personal goal is to be on the podium at least one time next year if we can. Other than that, I’m honestly pretty happy just to be back in a series. We’ve worked a long time to get this level of opportunity. We’re going to try and make the most of it and not let it go to waste.

When do you think you’ll get a first chance to test the new Indy car that will be introduced for 2018?

JH: That’s a moving goalpost, honestly. Sometimes it looks like it might be at the end of January, start of February, middle of February. I think somewhere in that month spell of somewhere between the middle of January to the middle of February is when we’re hopeful we’ll get out for the first time with the car.

Looking at all the feedback that the drivers who have already tested it have given it so far, you must be pretty excited to get your hands on it?

JH: I can’t wait to drive the new car! I think it looks awesome. From what people have said, it’s kind of a handful, you’ve really got to wrestle the car around which I think I’ll be good at. Honestly, it could be anything, and I would be happy knowing I’ve got a multi-year agreement signed and in place to be able to go racing for at least a couple of years. Honestly it could be anything, it’s just a bonus and a luxury it’s going to be the new IndyCar.

You raced in Indy Lights for a couple of years, how did you feel it prepared you for making the move into IndyCar? There’s a set ladder in the US with the Mazda Road to Indy, did you find it quite an easy transition?

JH: Yeah I guess. Learning ovals was obviously the biggest thing and I think is the biggest challenge for a lot of people. I think the general driving of the car, the road courses and street circuits, are pretty similar to what we have in Europe. But the ovals are a big thing, and I do think the Mazda Road to Indy, the whole programme that is in place, there’s nothing else like it in the world. So to have gone and missed out on the championship two times was a tough pill to swallow. But I think they are preparing their drivers for the next step. It’s pretty awesome to be part of that.

IndyCar is going through a real period of growth in the UK. We’ve got Carlin now joining the grid, and Max Chilton is also around. Fernando Alonso’s arrival last year helped expand its reach. How much of a growth have you seen as a British driver back at home with people knowing about IndyCar and the series?

JH: It’s definitely on the rise. I did text Trevor [Carlin] yesterday, we did have a few conversations about stuff, and I was thrilled to see him be able to become the first full-time British entrant into IndyCar in North America. I was thrilled for him. And certainly the interest in IndyCar is growing a lot, I think that’s very fair to say. Honestly I just feel lucky to be a part of it. I think to be a part of that for me is something I am proud of.

If we can keep British drivers going there, who knows, maybe they will get a chance to do a race back in the UK? I think that would be incredible. I think if we can all keep trying to grow it between us and try and keep a British presence in the sport, I think that would be awesome. IndyCar racing is extremely fun, it’s exciting, it’s fun to watch, whereas sometimes Formula 1 can get a little predictable unless something really exciting happens.

I’m thrilled that the amount of British drivers on the grid is growing, and I’m thrilled that Trevor’s got a team. I know that he’s worked a long time to be in that position. I’m really happy for everybody at Carlin to get this shot at the highest level.

What track in the UK would you most like to race on in an Indy car?

JH: There are a couple. Donington’s obviously my home track so I’m a little biased to that. I’d love to see them race at Brands GP, I think that would be pretty cool. And obviously Silverstone has got to be on the list, it’s the home of British motorsport. And I’m a BRDC full member so if I was able to go back and see all of those guys from when I was racing on the BMW and GP3 ladder system and getting wins there, it would be great to get a win there.

IndyCar in a good spot right now. Is it a great time to be part of the series? Do you feel very secure knowing the direction the series is going in?

JH: I think so. IndyCar certainly have a good plan in place. Pretty happy to be a part of it, pretty relieved to be a part of it. I’m honestly just trying to make sure I can be a part of it for the foreseeable future.