IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt to demo hands/foot-free Corvette

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On January 6, 2000, Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt’s life forever changed when he became a quadriplegic after sustaining a severe injury to his spinal cord in a testing crash at Walt Disney World Speedway.

Since then, Schmidt (pictured, left, with one of his drivers, Simon Pagenaud) has become of the top team owners in open-wheel racing, creating a championship dynasty in the Indy Lights series and a two-car outfit in the top-tier Verizon IndyCar Series.

Additionally, he has worked tirelessly through the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation to help find an eventual cure for paralysis through funding research and medical treatment.

Now, Schmidt has been called upon to help unveil an innovative new technology that could enable other quadriplegics to one day get behind the wheel again.

Later this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Schmidt will take control of a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that has been outfitted with special electronics and an interface that will enable him to brake with a bite sensor and also steer and accelerate in intervals with a simple tilt of his head.

Naturally, it’s called the “SAM Project” – that’s Semi-Autonomous Motorcar.

“I had two requirements, and the first was to stay safe,” Schmidt told Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “The second was that I had to be the one driving the car.”

Turns out Schmidt also had a third requirement as well: “I must average over 100 mph…(The engineers) laughed,” he added.

Multiple companies collaborated on the SAM Project, and the tech involved is impressive.

According to Cavin, Schmidt’s headwear features four sensors that transmit information to infrared cameras on the dashboard. In addition to the bite and head sensors for braking, steering and accelerating, the car has GPS technology that will keep Schmidt at least 1.5 meters from virtual curbing and within a steering width of 10 meters.

Engineers can also take over the car remotely if things go awry on Schmidt’s demo, which is slated for Indianapolis 500 Pole Day on May 18.

As Yahoo! Autos’ Justin Hyde notes, we’re still a ways off from self-driving systems being approved for use among both the able-bodied and the disabled. But the SAM Project could herald a potential breakthrough that can add to the quality of life for many people.

It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue, and it’s only fitting that Schmidt, a guy who has proven his courage and determination many times over, is helping the cause.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.