When 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Champion Tristan Vautier put his helmet on moments before climbing in the No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports (SHM) car for his first laps in an IndyCar during a test at Sebring International Raceway, he told himself, “You’ll remember this moment for a long time.”

When he stepped out of the car at the conclusion of the test he had climbed to second on the time charts, ensuring that SHM and the rest of the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock would remember him for a long time.

Vautier clocked an unofficial lap time of 52.85 seconds at the 1.65-mile road course, second only to Team Penske’s Will Power who was a hair faster at 52.84 seconds.

Full-time SHM driver Simon Pagenaud drove the No. 77 car the first day of the two-day test, laying the groundwork for the car’s set-up and speed before Vautier stepped in.

“Simon gave me information on driving the car before the test, and he was trackside all day, along with SHM’s driver coach Bob Perona, giving me feedback,” Vautier said. “It was very helpful, and I felt like throughout the day I progressed on understanding how the car worked with the set-up and learning how the tires worked to make the most of my sticker runs.”

Vautier identified several key differences in the new car.

“The carbon brakes in an IndyCar don’t work well if you’re not up to temperature, and you can rely on the downforce more so you can carry more speed through the corners than I originally thought I could,” he said. “It’s a little harder to put it all together in this car because little mistakes penalize you more than the Lights car did.”

SHM General Manager Rob Edwards found Vautier to be a quick study.

“From watching Tristan drive in Firestone Indy Lights, I expected him to be fast,” Edwards said. “What I didn’t expect was for him to be on the pace as quickly as he was. For someone jumping into a new car with a lot to learn, that was unexpected.”

The test was the team’s final on-track activity for 2012. For Edwards, elevating Vautier to the IZOD IndyCar Series car brought the entire racing season full circle.

“2012 was a great year for both our IndyCar and Indy Lights team, and this was a great way to bookend the year,” Edwards said. “It was a great day with our Lights champion in the IndyCar.”

With Vautier driving the No. 77, Simon Pagenaud was able to gain a new perspective of his car. Pagenaud watched Vautier’s progress from different vantage points around the track throughout the day.

“It was insightful for Simon to see how the car behaved at different points of the circuit,” Edwards said. “Driver’s don’t normally get to watch their own cars.”

Now that track activity is complete for 2012, Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports has set its sights squarely on 2013.

“We were pretty happy with our street course package for 2012, but we had some unanswered questions that we wanted to explore,” Edwards said. “Over the course of the two days in Sebring, we were able to confirm where we want to be for St. Pete and Long Beach in 2013.”