Indy car veteran Oriol Servia says he will remember his first ever weekend driving for Team Penske for the rest of his life.
The 41-year-old Catalan was drafted into the Penske squad at the last minute when Grand Prix of St. Petersburg polesitter Will Power was too sick to take part in the Sunday action at the track.
The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion had been fighting a stomach bug throughout the second half of the week, which was causing him to vomit. Following a reassessment by the IndyCar medical team, Power was also found to have mild concussion following his 140mph crash in first practice.
Consequently Servia, who is currently without a ride and who was in town as a spectator, was signed up to race Power’s #12 Penske-Chevrolet.
Servia told Motorsport.com after the race that it had been an “amazing experience that I will remember forever.”
He said: “Honestly, from the moment on Saturday that I asked [Penske Racing president] Tim Cindric – half joking – whether Penske had considered running a fifth car for the Indy 500, it has just been crazy.
“He said they might need me sooner. And then straight away we talked about doing the Sunday morning warm-up. Because we knew that Will wouldn’t be able to do that, he needed maximum time to see if he could get well for the race. But in case he couldn’t make the race, they needed someone to get experience in the car.
“So then Jackie [girlfriend] flew out from LAX with my helmet, and landed at Tampa at 12.30am. We’re at the hotel and I’m trying to sleep and you know how the more you try, the more you’re just lying there looking at the clock and seeing the numbers change? I guess it was the change of time zones from West to East coast.
“But then we also lost an hour as the clocks went forward…So no sleep. And then I was at the track at 6am to have a seat fitting.”
Happy with basic pace
Servia, who raced Andretti Autosport’s tribute car for Justin Wilson at Sonoma last August, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s second entry at the Indy 500 in May, said he had surprised himself with his pace in Sunday warm-up.
“I was pleased I had the pace in the warm-up, we end up ninth, although the last few tenths is what we just didn’t have time to find.
“Then at 10.30, about two hours before the race, it’s decided Will won’t be able to be in the car,” said Servia who won the 1999 Indy Lights title and had his rookie season in CART Indy cars in 2000. “So at last I have the ride I had dreamed of for the last 15 years… but I have to start from the back because I hadn’t been the guy who qualified it.
“But that’s fine; it was not sleeping a wink the night before that was the difficult part.”
Impressed by Penske team and car
Servia, who had been teammates with Power at KV Racing back in 2008 when Power first worked with race engineer Dave Faustino, said the organization of Team Penske and the strengths of the car had impressed him but not surprised him.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “Having Dave as my engineer, and Tim on the radio… and the car was fantastic too. Everything was exactly what I expected. Very slick.”
Starting from 22nd on the grid, Servia was 18th at the end of the first lap and had risen to 11th by half distance when he was an innocent party in the multi-car shunt at Turn 4. After an unscheduled pit stop for repairs, Servia came home 18th.
“That shunt was unfortunate,” he said, “but just one of those things where there’s nowhere to go, once Graham [Rahal] was stopped across the track.
“Apart from that we did OK I think, although I’d say I was the limit, not the car. The downforce with the aero kits is about 500lbs more than last year…. And it was already ridiculous last year! I thought it would be my breathing that would be the problem from the G-forces, but it was actually my arms.
“I can tell you, I was very pleased to see that first yellow! Why did it take so long?! [Lap 42 following the Marco Andretti/Luca Filippi collision] Normally in the first race of the season, there are problems with drivers crashing with each other early on…”
“But anyway, I’m very grateful to Mr. Penske, Tim, and the team. It was a fantastic car, a fantastic opportunity, but I wish it didn’t happen because of Will. He is a good friend."
“Now I will remember this race, this whole experience, for the rest of my life. It was crazy from the beginning to the middle to the end.”