Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Pagenaud joins Schmidt for 2012 season
2. Newgarden lands ride with Fisher Hartman team
3. Stars come out for Brazilian karting event
4. 2012 car back on the track
5. More honors for Franchitti, Power, Newgarden
6. INDYCAR expands technical staff
7. Anderson to race in USF2000 with Belardi Auto Racing
8. Webb joins Schmidt for Firestone Indy Lights
1. Pagenaud joins Schmidt for 2012 season: Frenchman Simon Pagenaud will be the driver of the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Honda-powered Dallara in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, team owner Sam Schmidt announced Dec.8 during a press conference in Indianapolis.
SSM team manager Rob Edwards and Pagenaud joined Schmidt at the press conference in the Indiana Convention Center during the International Motorsports Industry Show.
Pagenaud, 27, brings a wealth of experience driving several types of high-horsepower cars in his career. In 2011 alone, he was a factory Honda driver in the 12 Hours of Sebring and a factory Peugeot driver in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 24, finishing second in both events. In addition to the sports car racing, Pagenaud also raced V8 Supercars, Rally cars and had three IndyCar Series starts in 2011 filling in for injured drivers Ana Beatriz (Barber Motorsports Park), Justin Wilson (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) and Simona de Silvestro (Infineon Raceway).
"I am delighted to be joining the IZOD Indy Car Series full time with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Honda," Pagenaud said. "The series represents the most competitive racing in the world right now, and I am really looking forward to the challenge of racing in a single-seater again. I have to thank Sam Schmidt Motorsports for giving me the opportunity and to continue with the Honda engineers at HPD. It is the best situation I could wish for."
Like many racers, Pagenaud started his career racing karts near his home in Montmorillon, France. He moved steadily through karts and formula cars in Europe from 1994 to 2005. At the end of that run, he made the decision to steer his career path through the United States. In 2006, he made the move to Indianapolis and his career took off.
"America has been a lucky charm to me, really," Pagenaud said. "The start of it was 2006, when I won the Champ Car Atlantic Championship with Walker Racing, which allowed me to enter the Champ Car Series in 2007."
His rookie year in Champ Car was also his last as the series dissolved when Indy car racing was unified under the Indy Racing League banner. Pagenaud finished eighth in his rookie season. Though he was out of an Indy car seat, his stock quickly rose when he became a factory driver for Honda Performance Development.
Teaming with car owner Gil de Ferran in 2008 and 2009, Pagenaud won five American Le Mans Series LMP1 races, seven poles and several podium finishes. In 2010, he switched to the Highcroft Racing team and, with co-driver David Brabham, won the American Le Mans Series LMP1 championship with four wins and three poles.
"We are very fortunate to land a driver of Simon's caliber for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season," Schmidt said. "As all the teams work to develop the new cars and engines, his diverse experience will be invaluable to us. Simon has a strong relationship with Honda and its engineers, which is also a huge asset. This is a big day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports."
Pagenaud's car number and sponsorship package will be announced at a later date.
"I know 2012 will be a big challenge with the new Dallara chassis and being on a new team but, quite frankly, that is what is so interesting," Pagenaud said. "To fulfill a lifelong dream to race an Indy car and to compete in the Indianapolis 500 is a special time in my life. I can't wait for the start of the season in St Petersburg. I also want to especially thank Sam Schmidt for giving me the opportunity to drive for his team and for my friends at HPD."
2. Newgarden lands ride with Fisher Hartman team: Kansas businessman Wink Hartman was one of the first sponsors of Sarah Fisher's race team in 2008, and over the last few years their relationship has grown with Hartman becoming a silent partner in the team earlier this year.
Fisher officially welcomed Hartman as a full partner on Dec. 7, and the pair has hired 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden to drive the No. 67 entry for the newly named Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2012.
"I'm very excited to welcome Wink as a partner to SFHR," said Fisher. "Wink has been a part of the team and a personal mentor since 2008, and in this new era of our team and the direction we're going, we're excited to have his leadership.
"Wink brought the idea of Josef to our attention, and after watching him mid-season forward we knew he would be a perfect fit. 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, a 20-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn., won the Firestone Indy Lights title in 2011, capturing five wins and 10 podium finishes.
"First of all, I'd like to thank Andy (O'Gara), Sarah, and Wink for providing me with this opportunity," said Newgarden, who has signed a three-year contract with the team. "It's a perfect fit. SFHR and myself have a lot of the same qualities, and 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."
SFHR is currently working out details to finalize Newgarden's 2012 schedule, but expects a full- season effort. Newgarden believes like he's in an ideal situation to be a rookie driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series and can adapt quickly.
"I think I've been prepared for this point and I have all the faith in the world in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing group," he said. "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. 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."
Hartman, who owns professional indoor soccer and football teams in Wichita, Kan., first became involved with the No. 67 entry after hearing the story of Fisher's team prior to the 2008 Indianapolis 500. He has been a part of the team since.
"I'm excited about the great news for SFHR today," Hartman said. "It shows Sarah's continued growth in selecting Josef to be the driver for the future of the team. We look forward to a great 2012 season with Josef behind the wheel."
3. Stars come out for Brazilian karting event: James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, participated in the Dan Wheldon Memorial Kart Race on Dec. 5 in England. This weekend he'll be competing for the first time in the 14th Milhas 500 Granja Viana charity karting race.
The 12-hour endurance race will be held for the first time on a circuit that is part of Beto Carrero World - a multiple-theme park in Penha, Brazil.
"(Firestone Indy Lights driver) Victor Carbone and I train together in Indy and he said, 'Hey, Hinch, there's a big go-kart race down in Brazil every year,' and I said, 'You mean the Granja Viana 500?'" Hinchcliffe said. "He said, 'Yeah, that one,' and he was part of a team that was looking for a fourth driver.
"It's just one of the coolest postseason events; it's like a celebrity event. It's 'who's who' of participants. I jumped at the chance to go. (Raphael Matos) is on the team, too. I'm looking forward to going down. I feel very fortunate."
Prior to the charity event to benefit the Alzheimer's Society in the UK, Hinchcliffe's last fully competitive go-kart race was in 2004.
"I do kart from time to time to stay sharp," he said.
Multi-time winner Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira are other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who will again be in the lineup.
4. 2012 car back on the track: Tony Kanaan was back behind the wheel of the Chevrolet-powered DW12 chassis Dec. 7 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval.
JR Hildebrand, who recently signed an extension through 2012 with Panther Racing, got his first opportunity to drive the car Dec. 8 as engine manufacturers continue their development program.
Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing drove the Honda-powered Dallara car both days.
The manufacturer program continues the following week at Sebring International Raceway. No commercial parts failure has been reported through almost 5,000 miles of testing.
5. More honors for Franchitti, Power, Newgarden: IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden have been selected to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters All-American Team.
Franchitti, who won his third consecutive championship for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Power, the series' runner-up, were selected as the open-wheel drivers, while Newgarden was selected as an at-large entry.
Bryan Clauson, who competed in Firestone Indy Lights events, was honored in the short-track category.
The full team, and the winner of the Jerry Titus Award, will be honored Jan. 8 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Indianapolis.
6. INDYCAR expands technical staff: Daniel Louks, who had been an assistant engineer for the No. 5 KV Racing Technology-Lotus driven by Takuma Sato, has joined the sanctioning body as an engine support engineer.
He'll be tasked with checking engine manufacturer compliance with the series' rules and ECU status among other duties. Louks also will oversee the application of a torque sensor new for the 2012 season, which will keep track of power levels between the three engine manufacturers.
7. Anderson to race in USF2000 with Belardi Auto Racing: 2011 Skip Barber National Series champion Scott Anderson will join Belardi Auto Racing's USF2000 team for the 2012 season.
"I feel like the team I signed with needed to be as motivated as I am to win, and I just think that out of all the teams I spoke with and tested with Belardi is the most motivated of them all," he said. "Had it not been for the scholarship through the MAZDA program, I would probably still be struggling to find funding for next season. I'm very thankful I was able to have the option of joining such a strong team (because of the scholarship money). "
Anderson, a Colorado native, began his career racing karts. He spent five years karting until he moved on to Skip Barber Racing regional series in 2009. During his first year in the Skip Barber series, Anderson drove in the Western Series where he finished third in the championship and claimed the Rookie of the Year.
In 2010, he became the Skip Barber Western Series Champion and the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge Winter Tour Champion. Between those two series and the Skip Barber Southern Series, Anderson collected 15 poles, 19 wins and 39 podium finishes in just 56 starts.
His good fortune continued through the 2011 season, when he clinched the championship title in the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Championship Presented by Mazda.
"The team and I are excited to have Scott on board," said team owner Brian Belardi. "I had a chance to see him race during the Skip Barber series this summer, which he ultimately won, and then at the IMS test we did in October.
"Scott impressed me with his car control and natural driving ability. He was able to back up his abilities with another great test at Palm Beach. I couldn't be more happy with the team we have pulled together for the 2012 season. Scott will definitely be a contender for the championship."
Mazda's Director of Motorsports, John Doonan, is happy to know that the Mazda Road to Indy series is continually progressing. "
We're certainly pleased that Scott has made his team choice, Belardi Auto Racing," he said. "We're also pleased that we continue to have a very defined ladder from karting, to Skip Barber to USF2000 and beyond.
"Clearly the level of competition is being raised in each of the series and the number of teams that have their car seats full for the season, it's a really good sign of the strength of the ladder (series) in a tough economy, and the focus that young drivers have on seeing this as an opportunity to grow their career."
8. Webb joins Schmidt for Firestone Indy Lights: Twenty-year-old Oliver Webb has signed with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, the reigning Firestone Indy Lights entrant champion, for the 2012 season.
The Knutsford, England, native comes to the Firestone Indy Lights series after competing in the World Series by Renault in 2011 for Pons Racing. He also made four Firestone Indy Lights starts throughout the 2011 season with Jensen MotorSport, scoring his first podium in Edmonton when he finished third in his series debut.
"The decision to move to the U.S. for Indy Lights was a tough one to make," Webb said. "However, the efforts of Sam Schmidt and the team made it much easier. We have been in contact with Sam for a couple of years now, and after securing a podium in my Indy Lights debut, I was keen to have a full test program with Sam and the guys. I completed a two-day test and very quickly decided it was the right move for my career toward the top end of motorsport. I look forward to challenging for the 2012 title with SSM."
After winning its fourth driver's championship in sixth seasons with Josef Newgarden, the team has drawn much attention from interested drivers. Webb joins a multi-car lineup that already includes 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear champion Tristan Vautier.
"I have been waiting for this day for quite some time," Schmidt said. "I invited Oli and his father to the Toronto race in 2009 and have been trying to get him into the series ever since. He is extremely dedicated, focused and has raced in some very competitive European series. He proved he can drive an Indy Lights car when he finished third in his first outing this past season. With his four Indy Lights starts in 2011, we look for him to be at the front of the grid in St. Pete and a championship contender all season."