Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt says NASCAR driver Brian Vickers and the late Justin Wilson’s brother, Stefan, are still possibilities for the team’s third car in the Indy 500.
The team owner, whose other candidates include – but are not confined to – trusty veteran Oriol Servia and Verizon IndyCar Series sophomore Gabby Chaves, told Motorsport.com: “The same four or five guys have been circling the sandbox for the last 45 days. One week one of them will be all fired up and there’ll be LOIs [letters of intent] exchanged…and then nothing happens and it’s left hanging.
“We seem to be spending a lot of time on it at the moment, which I hoped not to be doing by now, but that’s the nature of the business. So let me put it this way: as of this morning, the door’s still open to all!”
Schmidt, whose team took pole at the 2011 Indy 500 with Alex Tagliani, confirmed that rookies Vickers and Wilson remain in the running for the third SPM seat on Memorial Day Weekend.
Vickers, who has three NASCAR Sprint Cup wins to his name, is currently subbing for the recuperating Tony Stewart in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, but is renowned for his open-minded interest in all forms of motorsport. Despite medical issues including blood clotting and also a patch in his heart that his body rejected two years ago, the 32-year-old has taken opportunities outside of NASCAR, and in 2012 he raced an AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia in the 6 Hours of Spa and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Wilson, who finished third in the 2011 Indy Lights championship, has started one IndyCar race, the 2013 Baltimore Grand Prix, partnering his much-lamented brother Justin at Dale Coyne Racing. Since then, Stefan has been part of the IndyCar 2-seater program while also fulfilling his main job as driver coach for ace Mazda Road To Indy squad, Team Pelfrey.
Wilson “deserves an opportunity”
Schmidt, who has never hidden the fact his third Indy 500 entry will require financing, reiterated the fact he was worried about a rookie taking the wheel at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, should IndyCar confirm the domed skids that were mandated for all superspeedways in 2016.
Schmidt told Motorsport.com: “Stefan can bring the money, and it's a situation where I’m torn. He is a good driver, deserves an opportunity and he has a reasonable amount of money to do this deal.
“But since the possibility of domed skids without strakes… I’m paying $550,000 for each of my chassis, and he’s not bringing that much!”
Schmidt also admitted that despite the huge appeal of the Indianapolis 500, especially in its 100th running, he wonders if young drivers would get more out of taking an alternative route into the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I’ve said it before that all these rookies who want to race in the '500' – any year – might be better off running two or three road or street courses for the same amount of money," he remarked. "That would give them more opportunities to appear on people’s radars and make an impression on team owners. Plus that way they’d have a chance to build up to the '500'.
“But I remember being on the other side of the fence, too, and I know that the only one-off race you can raise money for is the Indy 500.”
Vickers is “really talented”
Although Schmidt agreed the chance to sign NASCAR stalwart Vickers came out of leftfield, he said he was encouraged by the driver’s interest in various racing series and also the performance of 2004 NASCAR champion Kurt Busch two years ago. Busch drove an Andretti Autosport car to sixth place in the Indy 500.
Said Schmidt: “Brian is obviously really talented, he’s got that same patience and maturity Kurt Busch showed, and he’s raced in the WEC so he’s probably got a little more feel for technology than Kurt.”
Schmidt confirmed there would be no problem with Vickers racing a Honda-powered car against Chevrolet.
“Brian's freelancing,” he said. “Last year he was a Toyota driver. This year he’s been driving for Tony Stewart in a Chevy.
"And to be honest, nobody seems to know for sure if he’s still going to be subbing for Stewart by May and therefore if he’s even doing the double [Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte] that weekend. So there are a lot of unknowns.”
Schmidt said no clear favorite had emerged among his potential third drivers for the 100th Indy 500.
He stated: “Basically what it comes down to is that there are advantages and disadvantages to every possible scenario. Plenty of drivers still available, some have more experience than others and some potentially bring a lot more exposure and a lot more money.
“Ultimately it’s a balancing act."