Schmidt: Hartley, Wickens on "28-driver" shortlist for 2018 ride
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt says that while he believes a new deal with James Hinchcliffe is close, Brendon Hartley and Robert Wickens are two of 28 drivers on the team’s ‘shortlist’ for its #7 car.
Since former sponsor SMP Racing switched Mikhail Aleshin to work on Dallara’s forthcoming sportscar prototype, the #7 Schmidt Peterson seat he left behind has been one of the hotly contested rides in the off-season.
Sebastian Saavedra and rookie Jack Harvey have raced the car since Aleshin’s departure, and both of these former Indy Lights stars are contenders for the ride, but Schmidt told Motorsport.com he’s also looking further afield, given the forthcoming manufacturer departures from WEC and DTM.
“We had a conference call this week, with a spreadsheet of 28 drivers!” he said. "The drivers on there have varying degrees of funding between some and none, and between more talent and less talent.
“Pretty much everyone who raced in IndyCar this year and who isn’t already signed was on the spreadsheet, but we’re also looking to Europe and wondering if we should wait to see what happens in the Formula 1 ranks.
“But it’s no secret that we’re interested in all the guys getting pitched out of LMP1 rides and DTM rides this year and next year. In theory some of them have their futures secured.
“Real strong talents like Brendon Hartley, Robert Wickens, Earl Bamber – I think they all have strong cases for trying to make it in IndyCar. I think they could all do a good job.
“So like I say, there are a lot of options out there, and it’s a case of, do we go with the proven guys or go for someone with possibly greater potential but lacking experience at this level? What’s best for our team moving forward?”
Wickens is known to be very interested in the seat. Not only did he test Hinchcliffe's car in March as part of a ride-swap with his compatriot, he also filled in for Aleshin on the Friday at Road America, when the Russian had visa problems following his Le Mans trip.
Hinchcliffe contract renewal is close
Schmidt admitted that the search for a strong driver in the #7 car had distracted he and team co-owner Ric Peterson from finalizing Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe’s contract extension, but that he believes a deal is imminent.
He commented: “We’ve been focused mostly on trying to find a competitive and complementary driver to go with James, and someone who will be a good fit for the team. But then I woke up and thought, ‘Actually, first we need to make sure we get James to re-up.’
“But I’m pretty confident that will get done soon, because I think it’s in everyone’s best interests to renew the contract and maintain continuity.
“Our goal has always been to try and have two cars that run consistently up front, and we certainly believe James can be a part of that. But in order to help him reach that level, we need to find another strong driver.”
Schmidt all-but dismissed the notion of running three cars, a possibility he had considered over the past 12 months.
“We certainly thought about it a while back, but now I’d say there’s less than a five percent chance of us running a fulltime third car in the near future,” he commented. “Our priority has to be having two cars running correctly and up at the front on all types of track, and clearly we’re not there yet.”
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