Schmidt considers three-car entry, endorses Honda
Sam Schmidt has said a three-car lineup for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport in 2017 is a possibility, but says the third entry is unlikely to be full-time until the following season.
Schmidt believes “continuity has been key” to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team’s continuing improvement, so confirming his current two drivers, James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, has been a priority up to now.
He was pleased to re-hire his 2014 rookie Mikhail Aleshin for 2016, after trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia in 2015 had kept the Russian from racing for the team until the final round. Schmidt says Aleshin’s full-time return in 2016 had been convincing enough to persuade him to retain his current driver lineup.
Schmidt told Motorsport.com: “Everything on the #5 car [Hinchcliffe] is settled and we have a contract with Mikhail too. He’s dynamite, you know? He’s on it, he’s fast, he’s getting used to the reds [softer compound tires] and he’s starting to be where he really needs to be to help the team progress.
“If something happens internationally that’s out of our control, then that deal could go away and we’re scrambling just to fill the second car. But if we assume that all is OK with the #7 car, then I have always targeted 2018 for a second technology-based car,” he said, referring to the ARROW Electronics sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s entry. “So I think that’s still the current pathway.
“If a bunch of ARROW’s partners jumped onboard within the next 90 days and we could successfully add a third car for next year, then great. But we’ve learned our lesson from 2013 [SPM’s second year in IndyCar] when we added Tristan Vautier alongside Pagenaud with not enough budget. The end product did not reflect his talent nor our abilities. It was a disaster in fact.
“So now I’m not going to leap in with an additional car without the required budget. The most likely scenario for 2017 is that we have a third car to do Indy and two or three other races with some ARROW partners to start building momentum, and then a full year in 2018.”
Schmidt said he had no thoughts on who would drive that part-time third car next season, commenting: “As we all know, there aren’t many upsides to being a team owner, but one of them is that there is no shortage of good drivers. That kind of decision can wait until we see who gets full-time rides and who’s still available.”
Sticking with Honda
Amidst speculation regarding potential team movement between Chevrolet and Honda camps, Schmidt has said he intends to re-sign with Honda Performance Development.
“We’re a pretty loyal camp, and we’ve been down the Honda road since we joined full-time in 2012, the start of the DW12 era,” he said. “We’d like to stay where we’re at.
“Every team owner, if they’re smart, has had a conversation about a switch. And equally I’m sure Chevy has a pecking order of Honda teams they’d like if one of their teams was to go to Honda.
“But although we haven’t signed a contract, I’m hoping we can work through the details with Honda. Because I do have faith in HPD’s engine department, and in 2012, ’13 and ’14 when we all had the same bodywork, it was toe-to-toe in the championship between Ilmor [Chevrolet] and HPD. And our driver [Simon Pagenaud] finished fifth, third and fifth, and scored four race wins.
“I think we’re a much better team nowadays. We had Simon back then, but as much as he helped us, I think we helped him. So I’d like to think that when everyone has the same kit, we’ll be competitive.”