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Sam Schmidt Motorsports buys up FAZZT

2 March 2011

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.

Vernay tested with Conquest Racing over the winter, but the team also tested veteran Canadian IndyCar and Champ Car driver Paul Tracy at the same session, and this week is set to run British driver Pippa Mann at a test at Texas Motor Speedway. Mann was Indy Light's first female pole sitter last year at the Indy Lights Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and won the 2010 event at Kentucky Speedway.

Vernay told the media that his chances of running in IndyCar looked bleak after a key partner pulled out and as a result he was casting his net as wide as possible. "I'm free of all contracts and 100% ready to become involved in any major programme in Europe or the US."

De Ferran Dragon Racing officially shuttered

While Sam Schmidt Motorsport has saved the FAZZT team with its buyout, there was no similar last-minute reprieve for De Ferran Dragon Racing.

Team co-owner Gil de Ferran, a former Champ Car champion had already said last week that the team was unlikely to compete in 2011 after the failure of the team's deal with prospective driver Tony Kanaan failed to accumulate sufficient sponsorship funding to make the operation viable. The team subsequently confirmed at the end of last week that the cessation of operations was to be a permanent state of affairs.

"I couldn't figure out an equation where there wasn't an ounce of uncertainty and financial risk," de Ferran said. "It's a sad day, particularly in light of the fact we felt we did a lot of our (close-season) homework that we didn't do in preparation for last year," he said.

"We kept everyone over the winter, and we spent money on research and development. I felt good about what we were doing," but in the end "we just couldn't raise enough funds to do it properly," despite looking at scenarios that included a partial season campaign or an Indy 500-only run.

There's no word on whether the team assets will be sold off, what will happen to the team's staff - or even what de Ferran himself might now do. When asked, de Ferran simply said "I'm not going to make any immediate decisions about the future," adding: "I don't want to create speculation."

As well as Kanaan, the collapse of the team also leaves Davey Hamilton in limbo after the former Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver had previously announced plans to run a part-season programe with De Ferran Dragon.

The team was originally founded by Stephen J. Luczo and Jay Penske in 2007 as Luczo Dragon Racing for an Indy 500 run driven by Ryan Briscoe, with technical support from Penske Racing (owned by Jay's father Roger Penske.) In 2010 the team merged with American Le Mans team De Ferran Motorsports, and Gil de Ferran joined the new combined operation as a co-owner.

Previous drivers for the team have included Hamilton, Raphael Matos and Tomas Scheckter.


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