Pagenaud and Newgarden seal 2012 deals
8 December 2011
French sportscar racer Simon Pagenaud will finally be on the IZOD IndyCar Series grid full time in 2012, after landing a deal to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. And 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden will also be joining the starting line-up after being picked up by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
"He has the attributes we want in a driver and it really came down to fit for not only 2012 but several years to come," said Sam Schmidt, announcing the signing of Pagenaud. "He has a shot at winning some races and being a championship contender in 2012."
Pagenaud had been very clear about his hopes to make it into IndyCar next season, and spent as much time as possible in 2011 getting as much experience of the current US open wheel racing scene as he could - including three race starts, as he became the series' "super-sub" by filling in for injured drivers Ana Beatriz at Barber, Justin Wilson at Mid-Ohio and Simona de Silvestro at Infineon during the year.
Now he will have a seat to call his own, five years on from his one season alongside Will Power at Team Australia in the final year of the Champ Car World Series before it was reunified with the Indy Racing League to form modern IndyCar. Finding himself without a seat in the new series, Pagenaud moved to the American Le Mans Series, as well as the Le Mans Series LMP1 class and the Le Mans 24 Hours race itself with Team Peugeot.
27-year-old Pagenaud insisted that his recent sportscar experience will be a major asset to his 2012 campaign and to the team as a whole: "I went to sports cars, which I think was good for my character because I learned so much; learned how to develop the car, tyres, engines," he explained. "Now it's a big advantage for me."
Pagenaud helped develop the Panoz chassis five years ago in Champ Car and is looking forward to doing the same when he gets his hands on the new 2012 IndyCar chassis next week, with team testing due to start in January. Advance testing of the new chassis has indicated some handling problems on ovals, but Pagenaud is confident these will be resolved by the start of the season.
"The first day I drove the Panoz I wasn't very happy, but by the end of the year it worked very well," Pagenaud said. "You can ask Will Power, it was probably one of the best cars we've ever driven ... I think the new [DW12 IndyCar] will be great for the series," he added.
"Simon was a natural fit. He knows how to win, he's a champion and most importantly he knows how to develop a car from scratch," echoed Schmidt. "He's extremely well-qualified for this program in a season that I think will come down to engineering, communication, chemistry and development of the car."
Schmidt said that he would like to make it a two-car line-up, but that inevitably it hinged on sponsorship. Although the team fielded Alex Tagliani in 2011, Schmidt said that he would prefer someone who was more of an oval specialist if they were able to put together a second car, as a balance to Pagenaud's road course skills.
Meanwhile, Sarah Fisher was celebrating the signing of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion, 20-year-old Josef Newgarden as her team's driver for next season.
The team bid farewell to former driver Ed Carpenter on a definite high, after he handed them their first IndyCar Series race win with victory at Kentucky. But with Carpenter setting up his own team, and longtime sponsor Dollar General announcing it was leaving the sport, it looked like 2012 might be a tough year for Sarah Fisher's team.
Now, thanks to Kansas businessman Wink Hartman stepping up as primary sponsor for the #67 car in the new season, the team has been able to sign up Josef Newgarden for a full season - and they will also be rechristened Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2012 as a result of their new sponsor's involvement.
"I'm very excited to welcome Wink as a partner to SFHR," said Fisher, who explained that the businessman had been a personal mentor and one of the team's backers since 2008. In fact, the selection of their new driver was thanks to a suggestion from Hartman.
"Wink brought the idea of Josef to our attention and after watching him mid-season forward, we knew he would be a perfect fit," said Fisher. "Josef has a great brand and is a true champion. We very much look forward to working with him both on and off track."
Newgarden took five wins - including the Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway - and a further four second places for Sam Schmidt Motorsports as he romped to a dominating title ahead of Esteban Guerrieri and Stefan Wilson (Justin's brother) in IndyCar's main feeder series. Newgarden had previously completed a full season of GP3 with Carlin in 2010.
"I'm really looking forward to working with everyone throughout the year. I'm sure we're going to have great chemistry, and I'm excited to get 2012 rolling," said the 20-year-old Tennessee driver. "I have all the faith in the world in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing group.
"I think I will have all the tools to the job for them, and it's going to be collaboration. It's not going to come from one guy. It's going to take everyone coming together to make it work," he insisted. "I think we already have that and that's important when you come to a new group. We've got a great chance for success."
The SFHR team is yet to announce their engine partner for 2012.