While it’s predictable that Team Penske, Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport will dominate most of the races in 2013 the most interesting team to watch should be Schmidt Peterson Motorsport and their newly expanded two car team.
There’s been a number of flash in the pan groups that hoped to become the next Indy dynasty. especially since the 1996 split. Most of these failed teams with names like had one trait in common, they came out of nowhere with big goals and little experience. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, formerly Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsport, has done the exact opposite. Former partner Davey Hamilton told Speed’s Marshall Pruett he doesn’t have a plan in place for 2013 yet, and the HP sponsorship will travel with him.
Schmidt is one of the few success stories remaining from the IRL. With one IRL-era win atLas Vegasunder his belt he was paralyzed at a testing crash at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1999. Once he recovered from losing most of his body functions he founded Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Instead of jumping right into the IRL he started off in the Firestone Indy Lights team and built up his team in the feeder program while fielding one off efforts in the Indy 500, often as a satellite team for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Over time his Indy Lights team became the powerhouse team, winning the championship six times, including a string of three consecutive titles with different drivers and they look poised to extend that to four with their recent signing of Star Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth. Once when FAZZT become financially unstable Schmidt bought the team’s assets and became a full time team. In 2011 Alex Tagliani won the Indy 500 pole and Dan Wheldon, whose Bryan Herta Autosport car was fielded in a partnership with Schmidt won the Indy 500.
The team continued to grow, signing highly respected Frenchman Simone Pagenaud in 2012. They won the Rookie of the Year trophy and finished in the top five in points, ahead of more established teams like KV Racing, Panther and three of the four Ganassi teams, and by all measure they’ve gotten stronger over the off season.
While teams like KV and Andretti have lost engineering talent Schmidt has signed Andretti’s technical director and all around bad ass Allen McDonald, added an investor in Canadian businessman Ric Peterson and signed Tristan Vautier to drive their second car. While I’m still waiting for the details they’ve been very public that they aren’t interested in signing a pay driver for a one off season, so it’s probably a two year contract or longer..
Vautier is a home-grown talent from SPM racing, having won the 2012 Indy Lights Championship, and Vautier won the 2011 Star Mazda championship while driving for another team. He’s well respected and will be have a technically savvy teammate from his home country.
Given this latest news I have high expectations for Schmidt and his team this year. Conceivably they could pull off a trifecta, winning the Indy 500 or the championship with Pagenaud, Izod Indycar Rookie of the Year with Vautier and the Firestone Indy Lights Championship with Hawksworth, or any of the other drivers they’re rumored to sign.