Sam Schmidt Motorsports is to mount a full year's campaign in the IZOD IndyCar series after buying up the assets of the FAZZT Race Team in a deal that will also see it take on the FAZZT employees and sole driver - Alex Tagliani.
The team last competed in IndyCar full-time back in 2001/2 but since then has concentrated on the Firestone Indy Lights series with considerable success, winning the title in 2004 (with Thiago Medeiros), 2006 (Jay Howard), 2007 (Alex Lloyd) and 2010 (Jean-Karl Vernay), making it the most successful team in the history of that series. During that time, the team has only made appearances in the main IndyCar series at the Indianapolis 500 where in the last two years it fielded first Alex Lloyd and then Townsend Bell.
"This is a fantastic time for me, my family and everyone at Sam Schmidt Motorsports," said Schmidt yesterday. "We have worked hard to accomplish what we have in the Firestone Indy Lights series and, most importantly, we have built a team around a group of great individuals.
"That, combined with the excellent talent base at FAZZT Racing, should create a powerful combination. This in no way will interrupt our plans to compete strongly for the Indy Lights championship, and we all look forward to the challenge of being equally as competitive in the IZOD IndyCar Series."
Schmidt confirmed that FAZZT part-owner Alex Tagliani would still be the driver of the #77 car, now rebadged as Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and that the buy-out of the year-old FAZZT team did not change Schmidt's previously-announced plans to enter Jay Howard in the Indy 500 and to give Wade Cunningham a three-race try-out at other oval events, and would also not change the team's plans to mount another Indy Lights title bid with Brazilian driver Victor Carbone.
46-year-old Las Vegan Schmidt founded the team in 2001, after a horrific pre-season testing crash at Walt Disney World Speedway the previous year left him a quadriplegic. Inspired by the example of F1's Sir Frank Williams, after his recovery he decided to set up his own race IndyCar team, but following a couple of lacklustre seasons he decided to refocus on the Indy Lights with much more success.
"Though we competed in the IndyCar Series in 2001 and 2002, I can now admit we were naive in our understanding of what it took to be successful at the top level of open-wheel racing in the United States. Ten years later, I have a much better understanding of what it takes to go IndyCar racing."
The new team will also retain FAZZT's sponsor support from Bowers & Wilkins. "Our support for Alex (Tagliani) will transition with him to Sam Schmidt Motorsports," said Joe Atkins, chairman of Bowers & Wilkins. "We are excited about this new relationship and look forward to supporting Sam and the team in any way we can."
Vernay still seeks seat
Meanwhile Jean-Karl Vernay, the 23-year-old Frenchman who won the Indy Lights title last year for Sam Schmidt Motorsport, is still seeking a seat in IndyCar for 2011 but admitted that prospects appear to be fading.