Tristan Gommendy, who will race in the Indianapolis 500 next May, says that what convinced him to sign up for the project was that ex-F1 team owner Didier Calmels understands the scale of the task ahead.
Gommendy competed for KV Racing in the Champ Car World Series 10 years ago, and scored pole position at Mont-Tremblant, before switching to the now-defunct Superleague Formula.
Since then he has competed mostly in sportscars, racing this year in the FIA World Endurance Championship, but on Tuesday it was announced the 38-year-old Frenchman will race the #77 Calmels Sport Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the 2018 Indy 500.
Calmels, who partnered with Gerard Larrousse running Lolas in Formula 1 in the late 1980s and early ’90s, first approached Gommendy two months ago.
The driver explained: "For me, it happened at the WEC race at the Nurburgring. On the Friday I received a text message from Didier Calmels, who wanted to meet me at the racetrack, confidentially, to talk about a project.
"We set up a meeting with Didier and his son, Gauthier, they explained the project to me, where they were at, and then he said, ‘Would you like to be my driver?’ I admit that there was a moment of blank… I took a few seconds to make sure I wasn't just imagining the situation!
“He told me, ‘Think about it, talk to your wife first, and then you give me your decision tomorrow!’ I rang a few people, but to me my mind was already made up, if there wasn't a big problem. This project, if my conditions were met, it was impossible to say no.”
Gommendy said he has a greater appreciation for U.S. open-wheel racing than many of his European peers.
"Often, Europeans diminish American racing,” he said, “and they think it's watered down European competition, from a technical or competition point of view. These people don't understand that often, the Americans are one step ahead, and that on the professional side and the understanding of racing, they, in my sense, get it."
"The Indy 500, it's not just four left corners. It's a challenge, like a big mountain to climb, it demands a serious and lengthy preparation, and most of all, knowing what you are on about – not discovering the height of the climb in the middle of it!
“That's what was important for me talking with Didier – talk about it, know where he was in his talks, his understanding of the race and of Americans, give him my vision of this as well, and see if we were on the same page.”
Gommendy said that not only was Calmels fully cognizant of the challenge ahead, they both were aware that they needed to demonstrate to IndyCar, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson that they were taking the scale of the task very seriously.
"IndyCar really is aware of how dangerous the speedways are,” he said, “and they don't want to see daredevils from Europe coming without preparation, thinking that everything is possible.
"That's something they really want to control. Even if my name was already in the hat, we had to validate that with the IndyCar bosses and the [Schmidt Peterson] team.
“We have done a test day on the Honda simulator, with three engineers from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, engineers from Honda, and a transcript from this day that was sent to IndyCar, with some feedback from the engineers. This day happened a bit more than a week ago, and it went really well.
“The starting point is the Indy 500, but I think everyone wants to expand this program a bit, and SPM really wants us to do the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, to allow everyone to get used to the car, the team, and so on."
Gommendy will likely test on Homestead’s oval next month with the 2017 car.