Crash.Net IndyCar News
Tristan Vautier lands seat with Sam Schmidt
29 January 2013
Tristan Vautier has succeeded in clinching a full-season race seat in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, and will drive for the newly-named Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013.
“I've been talking with team owner Sam Schmidt since the end of last season in Fontana, but I just found out late last week that it was actually going to happen,” said the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion on Tuesday.
Sam Schmidt was equally delighted with the announcement. “We achieved success with Simon Pagenaud last season as a properly run single-car team, but I believe we'll be even better with two cars given the chemistry of the package and personnel we have put together for this program,” he said.
Schmidt has brought on board a new equity partner, Ric Peterson, which means that the former Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports team in 2012 will now be rechristened Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the new season. Former IndyCar driver Davey Hamilton could still remain a co-owner of the team, although that is still to be confirmed.
"We absolutely, positively wouldn't be where we are today without Davey's involvement," confirmed Schmidt. "Davey's a good team owner to have because he shows no stress and pressure. It's enjoyable to have people who have confidence in me. It makes me want to do better."
Simon Pagenaud will also continue at the wheel of the team's #77 entry after securing the rookie of the year title in 2012, and was excited by the addition of his compatriot Vautier to the line-up.
“This is a big step for SPM's IndyCar program, which is great news because it shows our team is growing,” said Pagenaud. “Tristan has earned the right to move up, and the fact that he is also French is great! I'm really looking forward to working with him."
“You really need to run two cars to reap the benefits of two sets of data and vie for the championship at this level," explained Schmidt of the team's determination to expand to a two-car line-up in 2013.
“As a one-car team last year Simon was often on an island,” added SPM general manager Rob Edwards. “The addition of Tristan will allow Simon to have data and information that was not available in 2012.”
Vautier has already been working with the new SPM second car squad in winter tests at Sebring International Raceway.
“I was amazed at the team's ability to work with me and be patient in Sebring because I have so much to learn,” said Vautier. “They gave me the tools I needed to be fast and coached me along the way. At this high level it's great to have engineers who not only set up the car but also still coach and teach the drivers.”
Vautier will have veteran Allen McDonald as his race engineer for his maiden season in the IndyCar Series. As a result of winning the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights title, he brings with him a $1 million scholarship to make the full season deal possible, with Vautier admitting that the scholarship was "the reason I came to the USA" in the first place.
"I was beginning to struggle with budgets and was wondering how I would be able to get through the ranks in Europe," he explained. "I started seeing these drivers stepping up because of the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship and at the end of '09 I felt I had to try something else [so] I flew to Sebring to do a test with Anderson Racing.
"I knew if I could accomplish this first objective to win Star Mazda I'd get my chance in Indy Lights, and now I have a scholarship to IndyCar. It's a young but amazing program that you don't find anywhere else," he enthused. "I loved it and stayed to do the season, because I knew if I would win I would get the scholarship."
Vautier follows in the footsteps of 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden, who moved up to the IZOD IndyCar Series last year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Meanwhile, the newly-crowned 2012 Star Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth is optimistic of following Vautier's successful road to IndyCar in coming seasons.
By contrast, F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello's hopes of returning to IndyCar competition in 2013 - with SPM looking a likely berth at one point - were dashed over a lack of available sponsorship.