INDIANAPOLIS (June 29, 2012) – If there was room on the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara for a bumper sticker, you might find one that says, “My kids are on the Honor Roll in IndyCar!”
Like soccer moms all over the U.S who display similar bumper stickers to show pride in their kids’ accomplishments, Sam Schmidt is proud of what his Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) team has accomplished so far in 2012.
“Saturday at Iowa showed what this team is all about,” said Schmidt. “I am so proud of the entire team. From our drivers on the race track to the engineers to the crewmembers all the way to the support staff, everyone is performing at such a high level right now. That was never more evident than at Iowa Speedway this past weekend.”
As he does at most INDYCAR weekends in 2012, Schmidt had five cars competing during the Iowa Speedway weekend. SSM’s Simon Pagenaud and the No. 77 HP team entered the Iowa weekend sixth in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, while SSM drivers Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri entered Iowa first and second in the Firestone Indy Lights Championship.
Victor Carbone and Oliver Webb rounded out the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Iowa lineup. Carbone had been a picture of consistency in Indy Lights racing entering the weekend fourth in the championship. While seventh in the standings, Webb had shown he knows how to go fast by winning the Indy Lights pole and finishing on the Detroit podium.
Pagenaud had five top-five finishes, including a second-place and a third-place, and had been incredibly steady on the ovals in the first eight races of the IndyCar season. In Indy Lights, the team had been on a roll, including capturing the team’s 50th win and 51st pole at Milwaukee the weekend before.
Optimism was high and attitudes were positive when the SSM cars were unloaded Thursday in the Iowa infield. However, over the next 36 hours, it looked as if the preverbal “wheels were coming off” the SSM machine.
Through practice and the IndyCar qualifying races, the No. 77 HP car plummeted down the speed charts, eventually securing the 25th (last) starting spot for Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 250. Heads were scratching as Pagenaud described his car as being “evil” every time he climbed from it.
“They may have been scratching their heads, but the HP crew never got down and gave up,” said Schmidt. “(General Manager) Rob (Edwards) is great at keeping everyone focused with the right attitude, and Ben (Bretzman) and Nick (Snyder) never quit engineering the car. The crew worked hard to give Simon a car he could race, and that’s exactly what happened.”
After starting last, Pagenaud drove a thrilling race around the fast, high-banked short Iowa oval. He raced his way up to third place during two long, green flag stints, before essentially finishing fifth.
“Simon’s race was nothing short of spectacular Saturday night,” Schmidt said. “But, he has been quietly doing that all season. I was really proud and happy for him.”
The SSM Indy Lights organization was also challenged in Iowa, and just like the IndyCar team, smart leadership and good drivers salvaged a potentially disastrous race.
In a move for which he apologized after the race, Vautier chopped Guerrieri as the Argentine was making an attempted pass for the lead as the pair raced way in front of the field. The veteran Guerrieri wisely aborted the pass and avoided disaster. INDYCAR officials immediately ordered a drive-through penalty for Vautier for his risky block. With Vautier penalized, Guerrieri was able to cruise to victory.
Displaying a never give-up attitude, Indy Lights team manager Dave Hiquera quickly began communicating with Vautier, reminding him of the “big picture” of the championship. He coached the young Frenchman through this drive-through penalty, reminding him to stay calm and to not make “a bad situation worse.”
Vautier responded and turned in a gusty drive that saw him race his way back from being a lap down to finish fourth! He followed Carbone, who also drove a smart and patient race to finish third, across the finish line.
“Iowa could have been disastrous for the Indy Lights program,” said Schmidt. “But again, Dave kept everyone calm during the race, Esteban showed his maturity in the car and Tristan displayed the ability to put a bad situation behind him and drive the wheels off the car. He recovered from his mistake and put together a great charge back through the field.
“Victor also ran a smart race. His car just didn’t have the speed to challenge for the win, but he showed maturity and raced his way back to a podium finish.”
A team’s perseverance and performance are expected to be monitored by its owner, but halfway through the INDYCAR season, others have taken notice as well.
Two prominent motorsports journalists – the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin and SpeedTV’s Robin Miller — both issued their mid-season report cards this past week. Sam Schmidt Motorsports was the only IndyCar team to receive a grade of “A” by both journalists.
Now if Schmidt could just find room for that bumper sticker.