Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) will expand to a two-car IZOD IndyCar Series operation for the 2013 race season with reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier at the wheel of the second entry.
The 23-year-old Frenchman from Corenc, France, will join fellow countryman and 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton HP Motorsports IZOD IndyCar Series entry.
With the successes of the 2012 season proving that the Schmidt Peterson and Vautier combination was a winner, it was only natural that the two continue to grow together in 2013.
“I’ve been talking with team owner Sam Schmidt since the end of last season in Fontana, but I just found out late last week that it was actually going to happen,” Vautier said. “I look forward to representing SPM, Honda and all the team’s partners this year, as well as to working with the crew and Simon (Pagenaud).”
Vautier has ascended to the highest level of open-wheel racing in North America via INDYCAR’s Mazda Road to Indy ladder system after winning the Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) Championship in 2011 and the Firestone Indy Lights title in 2012.
“Since developing the Mazda Road to Indy and MAZDASPEED Motorsports Ladder, we have seen the rapid advancement of many careers,” said John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports. “We are pleased to see Tristan make the jump to the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. We’ve known him since 2010 when he first raced with the Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) Championship. Since then he has impressed us with his performance on and off the track.”
Jason Penix, director of grassroots initiatives for INDYCAR, added: “Tristan worked hard throughout his Mazda Road to Indy career, and it is great to see his talent and dedication rewarded as he was in high-demand with several reputable teams. Tristan is now our second consecutive Firestone Indy Lights champion to graduate to the IZOD IndyCar Series as part of our scholarship program, and we’re excited that the Mazda Road to Indy program is effectively contributing to the futures of these talented young drivers.”
Making the jump from a one-car to a two-car operation should increase the already high performance level of SPM, and the fact that the team was able to hire its most recent Firestone Indy Lights Champion is an added bonus.
“We achieved success with Simon Pagenaud last season as a properly run single-car team, but I believe we’ll be even better with two cars given the chemistry of the package and personnel we have put together for this program,” Schmidt said. “You really need to run two cars to reap the benefits of two sets of data and vie for the championship at this level.”
Several SPM team members will advance from Firestone Indy Lights to IZOD IndyCar Series competition along with Vautier.
“We are proud to be able to promote from within. Many of our team members have worked on our Indy Lights teams for years, but have learned to operate the bigger cars through our Indianapolis 500 programs when we ran multiple cars. We’re happy to promote them full-time into the IndyCar ranks on Tristan’s car,” Schmidt said.
SPM equity partner Ric Peterson is confident in Vautier’s ability to thrive in the next level of his career.
“There are quite a few quality drivers on the outside looking in for a ride in 2013,” Peterson said. “We had multiple options, but we knew this was the best fit for us. Our entire team knows him already, and more importantly we know he’s a winner.”
SPM General Manager Rob Edwards expects the chemistry between Vautier and Pagenaud to elevate the performance of both drivers.
“As a one-car team last year Simon was often on an island,” Edwards said. “The addition of Tristan will allow Simon to have data and information that was not available in 2012.”
As a rookie, Vautier will start off with many of the same goals Pagenaud had one year ago for his rookie season, where he completed more laps than any other driver except 12-year IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Helio Castroneves.
“Tristan will be trying to complete every lap of every race with consistency,” Edwards said. “Who better to help him along the way than the 2012 Rookie of the Year?”
Pagenaud welcomes the addition of a teammate at SPM and all that a second car means for the elevation of the team.
“This is a big step for SPM’s IndyCar program, which is great news because it shows our team is growing,” Pagenaud said. “Tristan has earned the right to move up, and the fact that he is also French is great. I’m really looking forward to working with him.
Vautier caught the eye of the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock last December when he tested with SPM at Sebring International Raceway. The Firestone Indy Lights champion’s best lap time was second only to IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Will Power on the road course.
Time spent with the SPM’s IZOD IndyCar Series team at Sebring whetted Vautier’s appetite for working with the team in 2013.
“I was amazed at the team’s ability to work with me and be patient in Sebring because I have so much to learn,” Vautier said. “They gave me the tools I needed to be fast and coached me along the way. At this high level it’s great to have engineers who not only set up the car but also still coach and teach the drivers.”
As the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season draws near, Vautier will have a veteran team behind him for encouragement and support as he makes the biggest jump in his young career into a Honda-powered IZOD IndyCar Series car.