St. Petersburg, Fla., Friday, March 23, 2012 – The 2012 seasons for both the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights series began in earnest Friday, March 23, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) didn’t take long to flex its muscles.
Both series held two practice sessions Friday on the streets of St. Petersburg circuit in preparation for their respective races, part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend, and SSM cars were near the top of the speed charts virtually every session.
Argentine Esteban Guerrieri stopped the clock at 1 minute, 7.3874 seconds at 96.160 mph driving the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in the afternoon practice session to top Friday’s combined time and speed report for the Firestone Indy Lights series. Guerrieri is returning to SSM and the Indy Lights series after finishing second in the championship last year to teammate Josef Newgarden.
“We again have a very strong team with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and they’ve been working very hard in the off-season,” said Guerrieri. “I just arrived back in the states and did a couple of test laps at Barber, and now I’m happy to be here. I’m glad to be racing again in the U.S. with the Sam Schmidt guys. It’s going to be a good season, for sure.”
In IZOD IndyCar Series practice, Simon Pagenaud quickly came up to speed in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car and ended the first practice session fifth on the time and speed chart. Unfortunately, his afternoon practice session ended early when he pulled the No. 77 into its pit box, reporting something didn’t feel right in the Honda power plant.
Knowing that the team had unloaded a fast race car and Pagenaud was posting quick lap times, SSM General Manager Rob Edwards decided to end the practice early to allow the team and Honda engineers to thoroughly analyze data and prepare the car for qualifying.
“It has been a good day so far and every time we go back out, we improve,” said Pagenaud. “We are right there, but it’s just a shame we couldn’t run more this afternoon. Something didn’t feel right, and I shut it down to be on the safe side. It is what it is, and that’s racing.”
Pagenaud added, “I’m very happy with the way things are going. The HP car is nice to drive around this street circuit of St. Pete. I love street circuits; they provide you so much adrenaline rush. I still think we’ll be good.”
The Indy Lights teams will qualify and race on Saturday, March 24, while the IZOD IndyCar Series will hold qualifying Saturday. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is Sunday, March 25. TV coverage will be live on ABC beginning at 12:30 ET.
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Hey, that’s my car:
Guerrieri returns to SSM for his second year of driving for the five-time
championship winning team. In 2011, he drove the No. 7 Lucas Oil Products/SSM car to second place in the championship. In 2012, new SSM driver Oliver Webb will be in the cockpit of the No. 7 Lucas Oil car, while Guerrieri will be driving the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM car.
“It’s a little strange driving the No. 11 this year,” said Guerrieri after the first practice session. “I’m sure I’ll get confused at least once and hop in the No. 7 car this year. It is good to be in the champion’s car; however, and we are all working together and that’s what is important.”
What’s that movie rated?: Simon Pagenaud has experience racing around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit used for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Though he hasn’t raced here an IndyCar, he did race in St. Pete driving an American Le Mans Series LMP1 car. As much as he enjoys driving any kind of race car, he said there is no comparing the P1 car to an IndyCar at St. Pete.
“The movie is going a little bit quicker in the Indy car, and the car is just so exciting to drive. The straight-line speeds are about the same between the LMP1 and the Indy car. But in the IndyCar, you just have
to be up on the wheel, work your way through and muscle your way around the corners. There are a lot of slides out of the corner. I mean it’s just really cool to drive.”
Stacked Deck: Last year, Sam Schmidt clearly stacked the deck in his favor with the line-up of drivers in his Indy Lights cars. This year is no different, and today’s final combined time sheet backs it up. Brazilian Victor Carbone finished fourth today driving the No. 3 MAV TV/Nevoni/SSM car. This is his sophomore season in Indy
Lights and with Schmidt. Carbone also enters St. Petersburg as the winner of the last race in 2011.
Series rookies Tristan Vautier, driving the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy car, and Oliver Webb, driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM car, posted
good times and speeds in their first official day of practice. Frenchman
Vautier ended up sixth while Webb, from Great Britain, was eighth.
The History of ‘Matey’: With several testing miles already driven this spring, Simon Pagenaud has grown so close to his No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car that he has named it. ‘Matey’ is what he calls the car because he said it is like a good friend.
‘Matey’ came to life as Dallara chassis DW12-007, which was
the chassis number requested by SSM. It is the same car that Pagenaud drove in the initial test at Sebring International Raceway in January and again in the official IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test in March. And yes, Matey is on twitter at @Matey77.”