One of the strongest teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series is pursuing a plan that could result in the addition of a sports car programme next season writes Marshall Pruett.
The Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, which fields entries for 2010 ALMS P1 co-champion Simon Pagenaud and rookie Mikhail Aleshin, is working on joining the Tudor United SportsCar Championship in 2015, and has targeted a Prototype berth with Honda’s new ARX-04b coupe.
“We’re looking at complementing our IndyCar program with sports cars due to the level of technologies involved, and with our relationship with Honda Performance Development, sports car racing is a natural route for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to be considering,” SPM General Manager Rob Edwards told Marshall.
With Edwards overseeing the SPM operation, the Indianapolis-based team has become a powerhouse since Pagenaud joined the team in 2012. Splitting Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske in the standings, SPM has championship finishes of fifth and third since the Frenchman entered the program, earning four wins with former Acura LMP2 engineer Ben Bretzman in charge of the No. 77 Honda. Combined with Edwards’ IMSA GTP experience with Nissan, plenty of sports car talent and experience already resides within the Sam Schmidt- and Ric Peterson-owned team.
“It’s not a stretch for us; when we look at our HPD relationship, the big investment we’ve made in simulation tools, and the limited testing on the horizon, it’s a very similar challenge to IndyCar in that regard. There’s a wealth of sports car experience to be drawn upon, as well,” added Edwards.
“And the more programs you can spread those tools and resources across, the more it makes sense. It all has taken significant budget investments, and there’s a lot of parallels in what we do in IndyCar and what it takes to be successful in sports car racing. Be it driver-in-the-loop simulation or vehicle dynamic simulation, they’re applicable to both series and we’d like to be in both if we can make things happen.”
On top of SPM’s two-car IndyCar effort and its three-car Indy Lights program, Edwards says a customer P2 effort using Honda’s new coupe could leverage all of the team’s assets and opportunities across multiple series.
“We’d hope it would be of interest for funded drivers and sponsors, but across the board, it would also fit with our IndyCar program, the sponsors we have there already, the Indy 500 – one of the world’s biggest events, and we’d think anyone involved with our sports car program would be able to take part in some of the high-profile things that we do,” Edwards explained.
“If you look at putting the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, Sebring and even Le Mans together, it’s a pretty exciting package that goes beyond a typical sports car or IndyCar program. We don’t think of a sports car program as something that sits in its own world and has no connection to everything else we do, basically. It has the ability to cross-pollinate both worlds to suit someone’s racing or commercial desires.”
Edwards also reiterated SPM’s desired P2 expansion would not come at the expense of the team’s IndyCar or Indy Lights activities.
“Sam and Ric are interested in racing in any arena where the team can be successful,” he said. “With Simon’s place in the IndyCar standings, Mikhail’s impressive growth as a rookie, Jack Harvey’s wins at Mid-Ohio and his hunt for the Indy Lights championship, they have things in a good place in open-wheel. Looking at sports cars, it’s about growing business in other arenas where we believe we can also be successful.”
Provided SPM enters the Tudor Championship next season, it would join Extreme Speed Motorsports as users of the new HPD ARX-04b. And with the growing possibility of Andretti Autosport entering the P2 wars with a Honda coupe, the brand could have two of its most formidable IndyCar teams carrying the torch in both major North American road racing championships.