INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 18, 2011) – Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) is laying the foundation that will allow it to pursue its sixth Firestone Indy Lights Series Championship in 2012, and the first brick to be placed in that foundation was the recent signing of Frenchman Tristan Vautier as driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road To Indy Dallara/Firestone car.
The 22-year-old Vautier moves up to the Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2012 after winning the driver title in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear and the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship that comes with it. Vautier has decided to take his scholarship to SSM, which is the most successful team in Indy Lights history.
“First off, I’d like to express how thankful I am to Mazda, INDYCAR and Sam Schmidt for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime,” Vautier said. “It’s an honor to know that I will be representing the Mazda Road to Indy one step below the IZOD IndyCar Series next season and I can’t wait to be in the car. Knowing I will drive for a championship-winning team such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports makes it feel even better, and the guys can be sure I’ll give it my all. Now, I have a lot of work ahead of me and tons of things to learn.”
If the 2011 Star Mazda season is any indication, Vautier will learn fast and fit right in at SSM. Driving for JDC Motorsports, he dominated the 11-race Star Mazda championship by winning four races and finishing in the top-five in each of the other seven races. In addition, he only qualified outside of top-five once, when he started sixth.
“Tristan brings a wealth of experience and success to the team and I’m excited to have him in the No. 77 car,” Schmidt said. “I look forward to working with another of the Mazda Road To Indy scholarship winners. It’s a good program and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
At the age of 10, Vautier began his racing career by winning his championship in the Rhone-Alpes Karting League. He steadily moved up the European formula ranks, notching victories along the way. His last full season in Europe was 2009, when he won six poles and six races in the Formula Palmer Audi series. He then moved to the Star Mazda series in 2010 and won twice.
“When Mazda established our ladder program in 2007, we had drivers exactly like Tristan in our minds, drivers who can get the job done in the car and out of the car,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports. “We are so proud to be associated with the IZOD IndyCar Series on the Mazda Road to Indy, and Tristan will be a terrific representative in 2012. Sam Schmidt Motorsports was the champion’s choice again for this coming season and, after such a successful campaign with Conor Daly in 2011, it appears Tristan will be in good hands for a run at the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Championship.”
Though the Indy Lights car will be a new experience for Vautier, he will be competing in familiar surroundings. His four Star Mazda wins in 2011 – Barber Motorsports Park, Trois-Rivieres, Infineon Raceway and the Baltimore Grand Prix – all came on tracks and events run in conjunction with the IZOD IndyCar Series or the Firestone Indy Lights Series.
“Tristan proved he is ready for Indy Lights by his successful run in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship season,” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “SSM is a championship-caliber team, which makes it a great fit for him. We are excited to have another successful year of scholarship winners as part of the Mazda Road to Indy program.”
The 2012 Indy Lights season kicks off Sunday, March 25, with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
About Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) was established in 2001 and is owned by former driver Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed (quad) in 2000 after a crash during testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. As a car owner, Schmidt fields cars in the IZOD IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500, and the Firestone Indy Lights Championship. SSM is the most successful team in Firestone Indy Lights with 46 race wins and five championships. In addition, SSM has qualified 12 cars in the Indianapolis 500 since 2001 and in 2011 won the coveted Indy 500 Pole with driver Alex Tagliani in 2011.