Sam Schmidt says race experience could prove crucial to his choice of third driver for the '500', should IndyCar choose to retain domed skids as part of its superspeedway package.
Rookie Stefan Wilson, out-of-work sophomore Gabby Chaves, and veteran Oriol Servia are among those waiting in the wings and have all been in negotiations with the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda team.
However, Schmidt told Motorsport.com he was waiting to see which technical path IndyCar chose to take in terms of superspeedway setup before determining who was the most suitable candidate for the ride.
“I’m not happy with the domed skids, because I believe they will destroy the raceability of the cars in front of the largest viewership we’ll ever have in person and on TV,” said Schmidt.
“The effect dome skids have on the car’s handling would make it very difficult to run a pure rookie at the Speedway. I just don’t know how I could take that risk. And I already wrote off two chassis last year.
“We’ve invested a lot of time, energy and resources into preparing all three chassis, but we haven’t done anything with anybody for the third one. We waited for this test to see how this would shake out… and we’re now waiting to see what IndyCar decide is the best way forward.”
Schmidt said he expected that decision to come “very soon, and then the decision on our third driver will come very soon after that.”
“Chevrolet cars were sandbagging”
Schmidt agreed with the leading Honda runners that Chevrolet had not revealed its full hand in the test at Indy on Wednesday. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, who topped the timesheets, at lunchtime on Wednesday tweeted: “Fun day at @IMS besides the Chevys sandbagging”, and Schmidt concurred.
“Absolutely, it was clear from the lap times that the Chevy guys were sandbagging,” said Schmidt, who only joined the IndyCar Series full-time in 2012, but has run cars at the '500' since 2001. His team’s best days at the Speedway have been a sixth-place finish for Richie Hearn in ’02 and pole position for Alex Tagliani in 2011.
“Chevy’s been six or nine months ahead of Honda for the last three years. Knowing the superspeedways weren’t going to be included in the Rule 9.3 changes [which allowed HPD to make changes in five areas of its 2016 road/street course/short-oval aero kits, as opposed to Chevrolet’s three], Chevy have been working around a domed skid package for the last six months. They want the race to be between 17 Chevys, and they’re currently outsmarting Honda.”
No need for domed skids
Echoing the vehement statements made by his driver James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt suggested the domed skids were being used as a political tool for improved competitiveness rather than as a way to enhance safety.
“It’s a joke; there’s clearly no safety issue that requires a domed skid,” said Schmidt. “But that’s what [Chevrolet] are using because they know it gives them a competitive advantage and because they know they can.
“And by the way, let me stress here that I have complete and utter respect for the preparation, the advanced planning and the strategizing it took for them to pull it off! And there’s dissatisfaction with Honda because they didn’t see it coming.”
Asked if the addition of underbody strakes would be key to improving Honda’s situation should domed skids be retained, Schmidt said: “It’s a step forward, because if you don’t have them, it’s going to be like a 1970s Indy 500 with only 10 cars on the lead lap, maybe fewer than that. The strakes will help a little in terms of the stability of the cars in dirty air.
“But with or without strakes, if we run domed skids then I’d bet $100,000 that a Honda car won’t win the race.”
Mixed verdict on 2016 vs 2015
Schmidt said he hadn’t yet come to a full conclusion on whether HPD’s aero kit had made year-on-year progress compared with the Pratt & Miller-penned Chevrolet kit, when applied to all the Verizon IndyCar Series' various types of track.
“Compared with last season, we were a little better at [opening round] St. Pete this year relative to Chevy,” he said, “but then completely got our ass handed to us at Phoenix. Ryan Hunter-Reay said that when he was flat-out, the Chevys could still just drive away from him.”
Schmidt insisted he was not against open competition but said: “It’s up to IndyCar to decide, is this going to be a good race or a crappy race for the 100th running of the Indy 500?
“I don’t want to take a defeatist attitude here but it’s going to be ugly. If IndyCar goes the domed skid route, we’re going to be taking a knife to a gunfight.”