INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 10, 2011) – It was written at the beginning of the 2011 racing season that team owner Sam Schmidt had stacked the deck for himself with quality drivers and personnel in the poker game known as the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

Looking at the list of accomplishments this season by Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) heading into the Las Vegas 100 Firestone Indy Lights season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday (Oct. 16), it’s easy to see Schmidt has been holding aces throughout the season.

The team began with five young drivers eager to race and climb the ladder on their way to the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Brazilian Victor Carbone, who had won the 2010 U.S. F2000 championship, signed early to drive the No. 3 Nevoni/SSM car. Argentinian Esteban Guerrieri, who brought a handful of years of European racing experience to the team, was hired to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM car.

Rising American racer Josef Newgarden, from Henderson, Tenn., secured a seat in the No. 11 Copart/Score Big/Robo Pong/SSM car, while a program was being finalized for two other drivers to share the last car in the four-car SSM fleet.

In a package built around INDYCAR’s Road to Indy program, Schmidt worked with USAC, INDYCAR and Mazda to enter the No. 77 Mazda Road To Indy/SSM car for Noblesville, Ind., drivers Bryan Clauson and Conor Daly. As winner of the 2010 USAC National Championship, Clauson was scheduled to drive the No. 77 in the oval races while Daly, a Formula Star Mazda champion, was tabbed to drive the car on street and road courses.

Led by team manager Chris Griffis, who passed away two weeks before the last race at Kentucky Speedway, SSM dominated the Indy Lights Series statistical columns all season. From race wins to laps led to pole positions, SSM kept winning hand after hand.

The following are some of the team’s notable statistics and accomplishments:

  • SSM drivers have won nine races in 2011, bringing the team’s total to 45 Indy Lights victories since 2001.
  • Led by Esteban Guerrieri’s six, SSM recorded 10 Sunoco Pole Awards, bumping the team’s total to 58.
  • Of 768 possible laps thus far this season, SSM drivers have led 618, more than 80 percent.
  • With Newgarden, the team won its fifth Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  • Top-five finishes were common with 25 recorded heading into Las Vegas.
  • On seven occasions, SSM drivers swept both front row starting positions.
  • Newgarden captured SSM’s fifth Firestone Indy Lights driver championship.
  • In winning the championship, Newgarden also was named 2011 Perkin Elmer Rookie of the Year.

 

The Las Vegas 100 will be the first time the Indy Lights Series will have competed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it will be a high-speed poker game on the 20-degree banking of the speedway’s 1.5-mile layout. It’s a good bet Schmidt will still be holding aces at the drop of the green flag.

Victor Carbone, Driver of the No. 3 Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara:

Since you tested at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what are your impressions of the facility?

 

“It’s a great racetrack that can accommodate a lot of people. Hopefully, the fans are going to show up in big numbers since it’s the last race of the season. Another good thing about the track is the fact it is not located too far from the city, like other tracks, which makes it much better for everyone.”

Since Las Vegas is the last race of the season, what is your goal for the last race of the year?

 

“My goal is to get another podium. Now is time to look over everything we did at Kentucky as Vegas is a very similar type of track, and improve from there.”

Victor Carbone, Driver of the No. 3 Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara (continued):

People say the IndyCar and Indy Lights cars are easy to drive on these high-banked ovals because you are flat all the way around. What is challenging about driving and racing at 180 mph on this type of track?

 

“The easy part is going flat. The hard part is to go flat and be P1. We have to work hard to get a perfect car for that type of a track and, sometimes, that perfect car is not comfortable to drive. If you are running together with more cars, the handling changes dramatically. There are also some different lines you can take, so there are many variables that can come into play.”

Esteban Guerrieri, Driver of the No.7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara:

Since you tested at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what are your impressions of facility?

 

“It looks like Vegas Motor Speedway fits perfectly with the city itself as it is very colorful, really nice and new infrastructure. The tarmac and layout is very smooth and as clean as any other oval I’ve driven so far.”

 

Since Las Vegas is the last race of the season, what is your goal for the last race of the year?

 

“Obviously, I want to finish the season on a high note. But, besides the result, my feeling is to enjoy every minute inside and outside of the car, just as much as I’ve done during the year. I want to get to that checkered flag and thank all the guys for the support and respect we had as a team during this tough season. If I can do that with a win and secure second in the final standings, even better.”

 

People say the IndyCar and Indy Lights cars are easy to drive on these high-banked ovals because you are flat all the way around. What is challenging about driving and racing at 180 mph on this type of track?

 

“Actually, driving on your own, it’s not much of a challenge. But when you are in the pack, it gets quite tight and you have to have all your senses fully alert. To me, a fast car is needed to be competitive, but you can also make up the difference by playing it smart in certain situations.”

 

How important is it to you to get back around Stefan Wilson and finish second in the championship?

 

“I want to finish as high as possible, of course. It would be great to give the team a one-two in the final standings. But as for what it would mean for my future, I don’t think it would change a whole lot.”

 

Josef Newgarden, Driver of the No. 11 Copart/Score Big/Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara:

Since you tested at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what are your impressions of the facility?

 

“I think the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is going to be really cool, not just because of the track itself, but its proximity to the city and everything that Randy Bernard and the INDYCAR staff have planned. The week building up to the event is going to be really exciting for fans. It’s going to be a great way to end the year. The facility itself is very clean and a really cool track. I’m excited to do another mile-and-a-half race as I think it’s going to provide close pack racing the entire race.”

 

Since Las Vegas is the last race of the season, what is your goal for the last race of the year?

 

“The goal for us has not changed at all throughout the course of the year. We treat every race weekend as a single event. We try to maximize the results for what we’re capable of that weekend. That’s not going to change for the last race of the year. We want to maximize our potential and, hopefully, that’s a win. It would be great to finish off the season on a high like that, especially after a bit of disappointment in Kentucky being beat by Andretti Autosport. So, we’re going to be pushing hard to get a win.”

 

People say the IndyCar and Indy Lights cars are easy to drive on these high-banked ovals because you are flat all the way around. What is challenging about driving and racing at 180 mph on this type of track?

 

“The challenge of these circuits is really trying to find the right set-up, though you are flat-out. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what the car is actually doing and having that precise feel to be able to set the car up for the little things that are happening and the little scrubs that happen in the corners. That can be very difficult for some people. That’s the tough thing about driving at these speeds, but you can develop that feel over time. When you get that ability down, you should be able to set up a car on these 1.5-mile ovals.”

Bryan Clauson, Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road To Indy/Curb Records/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara:

Since you tested at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what are your impressions of the facility?

 

“Las Vegas is a landmark in many ways in the United States and is well-known around the world for its aura, night life and scenery. The racetrack is just the same. It’s a beautiful facility full of unique things that you maybe wouldn’t see at other tracks, like the Neon Garage and things like that. It kind of has a big Las Vegas feel to it that’s unique to only there. It’s a really unique place, and the track is a really fun, high-banked, fast oval. I’ve had the opportunity to drive in several types of cars there, including testing the Lights car earlier in the year. It’s a really smooth, fun, fast mile-and-a-half, and I think the racing will be really exciting.”

Bryan Clauson, Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road To Indy/Curb Records/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara (continued):

Since Las Vegas is the last race of the season, what is your goal for the last race of the year?

 

“The goal every race has been to win. Coming in to the last race of the year, I feel we’re best prepared to do so. We had a really good test there in the spring. In the last couple of races, I felt like we had really good racecars in practice but we just haven’t quite made the right moves to be good for the race. Part of that falls on me and learning what this car needs. Here we are at the last race and we’ll just have to take all the knowledge we learned over the last few races and put it into Vegas and see where we land. I feel really good about what we’re taking there.”

 

People say the IndyCar and Indy Lights cars are easy to drive on these high-banked ovals because you are flat all the way around. What is challenging about driving and racing at 180 mph on this type of track?

 

“The challenge of running the Lights car around the Vegas track is working the draft and positioning yourself in a place to win. Everybody is going to be pretty easily flat-out with the banking and layout of the track. It’s going to be more about working the draft and having a racecar that can carry momentum to pass guys with just a little bit of drafting help. Having three teammates in the field will be a big help and, if we work together, we can bring home a one-two-three-four for Sam to end the year. ”