For the second straight year, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ third car at the Indianapolis 500 will feature a new co-entrant and a driver who’s been out of open-wheel racing for several years returning to action.
Whereas in 2017 it was Tony Stewart’s Team One Cure and driver Jay Howard, in 2018 it’s announced to be Calmels Sport with driver Tristan Gommendy.
Calmels Sport is a French outfit led by Didier Calmels, a longtime motorsport enthusiast and companion of Philippe Sinault. Sinault is team principal of Signatech Alpine, which competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship with an Alpine A470 chassis (the rebadged Oreca 07) and has won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The news first emerged Monday in the French magazine Auto Hebdo, via French endurance sports car specialist website Endurance-Info.
“Ric and I are pleased to announce this partnership with Didier Calmels. Compared to him, we are relative newcomers to team ownership but have similar backgrounds of success in the business world,” said team co-owner Sam Schmidt.
“We look forward to learning a tremendous amount from Didier regarding the business of racing and his innovative approaches which have resulted in great success in European formulas. In addition, SPM has already shown results with French drivers such as Pagenaud and Vautier, so we look forward to having the talented and experienced Tristan Gommendy join our team for 2018. He has a similar background to Simon, so we have very high expectations.”
Gommendy, who will be 39 in January, had a single season of open-wheel racing in North America in the final full season of the Champ Car World Series in 2007 with PKV Racing. He was teammates with Neel Jani; both drivers headed over Stateside after running in European junior series.
Driving the team’s Pay By Touch-backed entry, Gommendy failed to distinguish himself too much on track but had two top-five finishes and one pole in 11 starts. He then ran in the Superleague Formula open-wheel series for parts of three seasons through 2011.
He’s since become a stalwart in sports cars, racing at Le Mans eight times, including once with Signatech Alpine in 2013. This year, he’s racing full-time in the FIA WEC with Jackie Chan DC Racing and was part of the lineup with David Cheng and Alex Brundle that finished third overall, and second in the LMP2 class, at this year’s Le Mans.
“Competing in the Indianapolis 500 is a dream come true; it was a career goal when I was racing in Champ Car,” Gommendy said. “Even though I grew up driving open-wheel cars, everything is completely new when you get to Indy. The Speedway and this race demand a lot of respect. Racing at 230 mph with four 90° turns is far from the European motorsport culture. I know I’ll have to work very hard to get ready for next May.
“The first steps, including my first simulator test, went well, but much more work needs to be done. Everything so far has shown me that this partnership between Calmels Sport and SPM is extraordinary. In the United States, everything is possible … provided you earn your spot. It’s up to us to write a beautiful French story in Indiana!”
As Gommendy has never raced on an oval, the task ahead will be a tall order for both himself and the Calmels Sport operation. Nonetheless it gives the 2018 Indianapolis 500 an early entry and an early rookie-of-the-year candidate, and his first oval test is scheduled for October.
Gommendy would also add to the eclectic roster of recent third drivers for Schmidt at the Indianapolis 500, following Howard, Oriol Servia, Conor Daly, Jacques Villeneuve and Katherine Legge since 2013.