SAM SCHMIDT MOTORSPORTS MAKES STRONG STATEMENT IN BARBER OPEN TEST
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Wednesday, March 16, 2011) - If Sam Schmidt Motorsports wanted to make a statement entering the season-opening Firestone Indy Lights race next week, it accomplished that goal.
Josef Newgarden, who will drive the No. 11 car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, led the Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park with a lap of 1:15.6711 on the 2.38-mile road course. Newgarden topped both sessions, while his teammates, Esteban Guerrieri (No. 7 car) and Victor Carbone (No. 3 car) were second and third on the timesheets, respectively in the afternoon session.
"It was a strong day for all of Sam Schmidt Motorsports," Newgarden said. "We've had a good form over all of testing, and this kind of reassured us that we are in good form and not sort of guessing. It's still early. We have a lot of work to do. We have a couple more test days to run before the first race at St. Pete, so we just need to keep it up."
Team Moore Racing's Gustavo Yacaman was second overall (1:15.9719) followed by Guerrieri, Jensen MotorSport's David Ostella and Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Conor Daly. In all, the top nine drivers were within a second of each other.
DAY 3 NOTEBOOK:
Al Unser Jr. was quick to give his advice to drivers participating in the Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park.
"That's a very fast left-hand corner at the end of the backstretch," the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion said during the early morning drivers' meeting. "Stay off the curb there. Last year, Dario (Franchitti) hit the curb and it shot him up the hill and into the wall."
Unser's role as a race official with the sanctioning body has expanded to include driver coach for Firestone Indy Lights. INDYCAR has utilized some of the sport's greatest drivers as mentors, including Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears and Al Unser, since the inception of Firestone Indy Lights in 2002 under INDYCAR sanction.
"I'm truly looking forward to helping the next generation of IndyCar drivers in any way I can," Unser said. "There are a lot of great drivers who have come through Indy Lights, which has a great tradition. It is the future of our sport, and we get to introduce them to the way we run the IndyCars. Many come from road racing backgrounds so the ovals are new to them. It's another way in giving back to the sport that's given me so much."
Drivers are encouraged to seek out the driver coach for their expertise regarding how to handle a particular section of a racetrack to the intricacies of setting up and completing a pass on an oval.
"In my day the Mazda Road to Indy series, particularly Indy Lights, didn't exist as a training ground," Unser said. "It was Super Vee or Atlantics, but my dad was a great help in coaching me during that point in my career. I just try to remember what I was feeling like at tracks, which was very excited and anxious, not knowing what the next day is going to bring. And that's where these kids are, so I try to let them know it's just another race car but to respect it as something that can be good to you and be bad to you in split seconds.
"I'll get to know these drivers as the year goes along and help where I can."
The unpublicized over/under was 80 seconds for Jamie McMurray to complete a lap of the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
Sure, the paddle shifting was a bit irregular and there was that spin/stall in a slow-speed corner. But after gaining his bearings, McMurray's lap times significantly decreased to the point where he was tempted to run flat through a few of the corners and the backstraight chicane.
The low was 79.8 seconds of the five full-speed laps.
"I didn't want to come in," said McMurray, who drives for Earnhart Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. "It was way more fun that I thought it would be. It felt as if I never turned the wheel, it was that smooth. The Cup cars slide around a lot and I think that's probably where the speed is that I didn't have in this car, knowing the threshold that if it breaks loose how much you can hang onto it. The acceleration was way more than I expected because the horsepower is less than the Cup cars so I thought the acceleration would be a fair bit less. I couldn't believe how fast the car took off.
"I never pushed it very hard in the corners to feel how much grip it has for fear I'd lose my other job. When we run Watkins Glen and Sonoma (the only two road courses on the schedule), the whole race is about sliding around the corners. In this car, the sensation of speed was more in acceleration and braking. The cornering did not feel that much faster, even though it was. The car had so much grip and control that when you're going around the corner 30 miles an hour faster than a Cup car I didn't sense the speed. But the acceleration and braking (there was a) big-time difference.
"I was glad they called me in because I kept picking up two seconds a lap, and at some point that ends and you wind up dropping a wheel off the track and get into trouble. I would love to get to run a road course race."
A couple of hours east of Birmingham, McMurray reciprocated by coaching two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and turning him loose in the Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet on the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway tri-oval.
"Scott won't have nearly the fun that I did," said McMurray, who in 2010 became the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 500 in the same year.
Dixon, who laid down a quick lap of 72.2815 seconds during a two-day Open Test at the natural-terrain Barber Motorsports Park, mentioned to McMurray that two cars on the racetrack would have been fun.
"Jamie watches our sport and he's really gotten in depth with go-karting so for him to come and try the IndyCar is special," Dixon said. "He's the one who brought it up to Chip (Ganassi) and then we came up with the idea of the whole swap because I wanted to try the other car, too. It all worked out perfectly here. For me, Talladega is a restrictor plate track, it's a massive track so I think my side of it is going to be a lot easier. It would have been cool to go to some short track like Bristol or Milwaukee."
Irish driver Peter Dempsey linked up with O2 Racing Technology for the Barber Motorsports Park Open Test in hopes of securing a full-time ride with the team in 2011.
The 25-year-old Dublin native is one of the most successful Star Mazda drivers winning nine times over his two years of competition in the series. In 2009, Dempsey finished second in points just 12 points behind the eventual champion Adam Christodoulou and finished third in the points in 2008.
"I am very excited to test in the Firestone Indy Lights series for O2," Dempsey said. "To get behind the wheel and show what I can do with this car is what every driver lives for. We are at that really interesting time of the year when all the hard work off the track, putting together funding and staying in shape, starts to pay off. For now though, I can't wait to get in the car and show what I can do. I would like to thank the team for all the effort they have put in to get to this point."
Dempsey already had an impressive list of accomplishments before coming to the U.S. to race. He's won won three championships, more than 35 races and won the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy three times. Dempsey comes from a racing family - his father Cliff is a longtime Formula Ford entrant and has fielded the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy car for the Team USA Scholarship drivers for the past three years.
"It's truly a pleasure to have Peter in our car. We've been working hard on this deal for a while, and we are looking forward to bringing it to completion. We can't thank Pulse enough for stepping up with their support of Peter. We are all very impressed with Peter's professionalism, attitude, and enthusiasm. His record is unparalleled and speaks for itself."
Andretti Autosport announced today it has signed Stefan Wilson to the team's 2011 Firestone Indy Lights lineup.
Wilson, a 21-year-old driver from Sheffield, England, previously competed in two Firestone Indy Lights seasons. He most recently earned three top-five finishes, including one podium finish, in 11 starts in 2010.
"I'm really excited to race with Andretti Autosport this year in Firestone Indy Lights," Wilson said. "I have two years of experience in the series behind me, and I think this year I will have the right resources and the skills necessary to put myself out front. I'm looking forward to getting out there with the team in St. Petersburg for our first race."
Wilson is the younger brother of IZOD IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson. Stefan began racing karts at the age of nine and competed nationally and internationally for several years before launching his single-seater career. 2007 brought Wilson much success, finishing second in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship, recording four wins, four poles, six fastest laps and two outright lap records. In 2007 at age 17, he also beat five other competitors to become the youngest recipient of the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
"It's great to have Stefan join our team," said Michael Andretti, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Andretti Autosport. "He's a good, young driver and is really hungry to win. He's got a lot of potential and we're looking forward to seeing what we can do together this year."
Sam Schmidt Motorsports brought in 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion Alex Lloyd to mentor rookie driver Victor Carbone during its recent test at Sebring International Raceway and for the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park.
"It's something I can do that's involved in racing, while I'm waiting to find out if I'm going to be racing," said Lloyd, who won the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year with Dale Coyne Racing. "If my schedule allows it, I'll probably do more of it. If I have less time available, obviously, I'll be doing less of it."
Lloyd, who drove for SSM in 2007, is still hopeful of securing at least a partial schedule to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series and said he has "a few options still in the works." Carbone hopes that Lloyd is available for a bit longer.
"It's great when you get to work with a driver with that much experience," Carbone said. "Alex is a big reason why we've made as much progress as we have."
DAY 3 QUOTES:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "It was a strong day for all of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. We've had a good form over all of testing, and this kind of reassured us that we are in good form and not sort of guessing. It's still early. We have a lot of work to do. We have a couple more test days to run before the first race at St. Pete, so we just need to keep it up."
VICTOR CARBONE (No. 3 Sam Schmidt Motorsports): " We're working on a lot of things, and we're not where we want to be. We have a ways to go still, but I'm happy. We're getting there slowly and I'm sure we will get there sometime during the season. The biggest thing is that we're progressing and we're going in the right direction."
ESTEBAN GUERRIERI (No. 7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "I was able to work more with the team today and it really was quite good. We saved tires for the end because we expected it to be better in the afternoon than the morning, but it wasn't. Generally it was OK, except for the last lap. It was a good day."
CONOR DALY (No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports): ""There's just a lot for me to learn about this car. I'm a couple of days behind my teammates just because I haven't had the track time. But I think I'm making progress, me, personally just working with the car and improving myself. Overall, I think it's positive for sure because I learn something every lap on track. For me, it'll be a matter of learning at a quicker pace and just try and keep up with these guys. It's good to have quick teammates. We've got the data and I've got a lot to learn from. Overall, I'm just looking forward to the next time I can get in the car and keep improving myself and work toward getting quicker. It's super important to have quick teammates. As a team, we will all do really well just because we can benefit by learning from each other. So, for me, I'm really happy to be where I am. The whole Sam Schmidt Motorsports team is working really hard and they know what they're doing. They're pros at doing what they do and I'm extremely happy to be where I am."
PETER DEMPSEY (No. 36 O2 Racing Technology): "It was a fantastic day, and I can't thank O2 Racing Technology enough for letting me test. I haven't driven a race car in a year and a half and at one point we were running in the top four, so that says a lot about the hard work the team has done. We had some issues with the aero late in the day, so we never really did a qualifying sim, but if we had, I'm sure we could have been in the top three. Overall it was a great day, and I hope to be involved in the series."
STEFAN WILSON (No. 5 Andretti Autosport): "It was a good day. We were experimenting a lot and definitely made some improvements. Really pleased with how we worked as a team today, and hopefully we can carry that into the first race at St. Petersburg. We worked on the St. Pete setup at our Sebring test a few weeks ago, so we spent most of the day working on the balance for our car when we come back here to Barber Motorsports Park."
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 12:30 p.m. (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season opens on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 27.