Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Getty Images

Calmels Sport announces Indy 500 entry with SPM, Gommendy

Leave a comment

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.

LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 15: Tristan Gommendy drives the #22 PKV Racing Panoz DP01 ahead of teammate Neel Jani in the #21 Red Bull PKV Racing Panoz DP01 during the ChampCar World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15, 2007 on the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

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.

LE MANS, FRANCE – JUNE 17: The Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of David Cheng, Tristan Gommendy and Alex Brundle drives during the Le Mans 24 Hours race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 17, 2017 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

“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.

Schmidt Peterson, Honda announce contract extension

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Honda weren’t expected to part ways – SPM has been the team undertaking development work with a Honda-powered 2018 Dallara universal aero kit in INDYCAR-managed testing – and so today have announced a formal extension of their relationship through 2020.

Beyond the extension, SPM and Honda announced what was also termed “an increased level of partnership between the two parties.”

Further elaboration on that front comes from Art St. Cyr, Honda Performance Development President.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in their capability, and our expectations are a lot higher,” St. Cyr said. “Their engineering talent, their ability to analyze what’s going on from one race to the next and really be able to up their game each session really impressed us. We are going to be relying on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to help us gather base data that is going to be the source of our programs like HPD Dynamic, our simulator, and those types of activities that we will be feeding across to all of our Honda teams to make sure that all of them raise their game.

“As we move forward with our manufacturer testing, SPM is going to be one of our key teams to really help us characterize the kits and make sure we can understand what are the strengths, what are the weaknesses and how we can maximize the ability of that kit to get the speed on track.”

SPM general manager Piers Phillips added, “Our technical partners give us the increased engineering capability which, in turn, gives HPD the confidence in us as a team to take our partnership to the next level. Our contract extension is the culmination of everyone’s hard work. One of the things that we’re extremely excited about is working closer technically with HPD for the benefit of not only our program, but for all Honda programs in the IndyCar Series. We’re really excited for the next three years and hoping to win a lot of races, some Indy 500s and championships.”

The new 2018 car has one final test under INDYCAR direction at Sebring International Raceway on Sept. 26.

SPM has not announced its 2018 driver lineup, although it’s believed James Hinchcliffe is working towards an extension to continue with the team for what would be his fourth consecutive year.

The identity of Hinchcliffe’s teammate, provided Hinchcliffe re-signs, remains a hot topic.

Several veterans and young guns are known to be vying for the full-time seat, vacated by Mikhail Aleshin after the race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Harvey have been in the No. 7 Honda since Mid-Ohio and the team may wind up running a third car at the Sonoma season finale, as they last did for Aleshin in 2015.

Urrutia on IndyCar prospects: ‘It’s getting close’

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

Santiago Urrutia is closing on moving up to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018, even if the Uruguayan driver does not win this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

Urrutia was a hard-luck runner-up finisher in the 2016 season driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but fell into an uncertain situation over the offseason as SPM shuttered its Indy Lights program.

A late and rather interesting deal came together later during the offseason between Urrutia and Belardi Auto Racing, with his No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda then having taken on Arrow Electronics signage at the first race at St. Petersburg and a full change to a gold and black Arrow Electronics livery under the Belardi Auto Racing with SPM banner from the second weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

That allowed Urrutia a second season in the series. While a tough start occurred with three finishes outside the top-10 in the first four races, Urrutia’s won twice since and scored eight top-five finishes in the last 10 races, and has closed to within 31 points of points leader Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser will clinch the title at the Watkins Glen season finale next week provided he starts the race.

In the break in-between the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Gateway Motorsports Park race weekends, Urrutia held a press conference in his home country of Uruguay to say he has “70 percent” of the budget secured for IndyCar next year.

He expanded on that a bit this weekend at Gateway, following his win in Saturday night’s penultimate race of the year.

“It’s getting close. I’m not sure I can say anything, but I definitely want to be in IndyCar next year,” Urrutia told NBC Sports.

“I think I’ve showed everyone that I’m ready for IndyCar. So, let’s see what we can find at the end of the year if I can sign a contract. But right now I’m in a really good position, so I hope I can sign as soon as I can a contract.”

Urrutia had to win Saturday night in Gateway to keep his Indy Lights title hopes alive, and did so after a late-race pass of Juan Piedrahita for the victory.

“Yeah, it was good. The only thing I got to do was win, so that’s what I did. I said, after the restart when I was second, ‘Okay, I win this race or I put the car in the wall,” because I don’t want to be second. I took a lot of risks on that pass and everything, but I got it, so I’m happy to be first, I’m happy to take the win.

“Now, I’m looking forward to Watkins Glen and get the win there again. If I win again at Watkins Glen, it’s going to help even more (trying to get to IndyCar).”

The Gateway win was also important for Urrutia from an overall development standpoint, as it marked his first win on an oval. He’d driven very well at Iowa this year, climbing to second and then overlooking race winner Matheus Leist before accidentally doing donuts on the front straight.

But this Saturday evening showcased a tenacity on the ovals without making a mistake, which had happened previously in Urrutia’s Indy Lights career the last year and a half.

By far, he’s excelled most on the permanent road courses, as his five other Indy Lights wins have come on those tracks (three at Mid-Ohio, one apiece at Barber and Road America).

“It was good,” he said. “I was pretty close in the Freedom 100, but I hit the wall. I like the ovals. This oval I didn’t like the first time. I got here, in the first few laps, I crashed into the wall. I said ‘Oh, this oval is going to difficult for me.’

“But as soon as we got the car ready, it was good. The car was super, super quick. So I think the Belardi guys did a great job today. The car was awesome, so thank you to the team.”

In a recent “Meet the Contenders” series piece on those drivers eligible for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires titles, Urrutia hailed his close relationship with engineer Tim Neff, who came with him from SPM to Belardi over the offseason.

“I really trust Tim. I don’t have a lot of friends in racing and I can call him my friend,” Urrutia said. “I believe in him and we have a really good relationship. If he makes a mistake, he tells me – and if I make a mistake, I tell him what I did. I can work closely with him and he really helps me. I know he’ll give me 100 percent to make the car as quick as he can, and he knows I’ll drive it as fast as I can. I’m really glad that we were able to do a deal for this year and I hope that if I go to IndyCar I can bring him with me.”

If Urrutia can make it to IndyCar, as he’s aiming to do and having tested previously with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last year, he’d be the first Uruguayan driver in the series since Juan Caceres made one Champ Car start for Dale Coyne Racing in 2006.

It’s the late Gonzalo Rodriguez though, who is Uruguay’s racing idol. He drove for Team Penske in CART two race weekends in 1999. Urrutia’s 2015 Pro Mazda title was clinched at the same track and on the same September weekend when Rodriguez lost his life 16 years earlier.

“It’s a country that is all about soccer but people are learning more about motorsports and they hope to see another driver in the biggest league, like Gonzalo Rodriguez did in 1999. It’s great for everyone,” he said.

“Fans at home and fans here in America want to see me in IndyCar next year and we’re working hard toward it. I know it won’t be easy, especially if we don’t win the scholarship, but it’s not impossible.”

Hinchcliffe takes to skies in advance of Red Bull Air Race in Indy (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

James Hinchcliffe has occasionally said if he wasn’t a race car driver, he’d be an astronaut – so he clearly has a love of aviation even though his day job involves driving a land speed rocketship, the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But Hinchcliffe got a taste of the skies in an entirely different way earlier this week, riding shotgun in Kirby Chambliss’ Red Bull airplane. Chambliss, the American veteran pilot, leads the Red Bull Air Race World Championship points standings at the moment.

Watch above as Hinchcliffe gets a taste of a different kind of G-loading – and look out for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it arrives October 14-15, with coverage on NBC Sports.

A few social posts from the event are below, as well.

Hinchcliffe’s epic save goes for naught after crash with Hildebrand (VIDEO)

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

James Hinchcliffe had hoped for Pocono Raceway to be a place to turn around sagging fortunes in his Verizon IndyCar Series season, and for most of the first half of the race it looked that way.

From 12th on the grid, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew delivered him an early excellent stop that vaulted him five positions – 10th to fifth – on Lap 26. With a risky but good low downforce setup, Hinchcliffe continued to advance forward and was into the lead by Lap 86.

But shortly thereafter Hinchcliffe locked up his tires on another stop, having overshot his box, and dropped back.

What followed in the next few laps shifted from heroic to gut-wrenching in the span of one caution.

Hinchcliffe somehow, miraculously, saved his No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda through Turn 1 when in traffic past the halfway point. While outside of Carlos Munoz on Lap 102, Hinchcliffe washed up and somehow saved his car at more than 200 mph.

“I was at Grandview Speedway watching a dirt race the other night so I guess I learned some tips,” Hinchcliffe joked to NBCSN’s Robin Miller when describing how on earth he hung on.

Alas, it all came unglued for him a bit later after teammate Sebastian Saavedra wasn’t so lucky in Turn 1, having pancaked the wall with his No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda on Lap 116.

Following the restart, Hinchcliffe washed up into JR Hildebrand on Lap 125, which took his longtime friend and competitor in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, with the two cars both having heavy contact.

Hinchcliffe took the blame after the incident, but even Hildebrand felt apologetic as well.

“It was a racing deal. There were a bunch of guys two wide (ahead); I was on inside of JR,” Hinchcliffe told Miller. “There was a bunch of understeer, and it pitched him sideways.

“Ultimately it’s my fault because we shouldn’t have been back there. Guys had a killer first stop. Had a really good race going, but I screwed up on the stop.”

The incident for Hildebrand capped off a tough weekend where he was slowest qualifier, but started 19th ahead of three drivers – teammate and team owner Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay – who were unable to complete or make qualifying attempts.

“We ran two-wide, and the guys in front of us went two-wide. I had a bunch of push. It wasn’t leaving enough room,” Hildebrand said.

“We fought the car all day. We made good fuel economy. It’s frustrating to have it end that way. And it’s a bummer to have it take out Hinch that way. We tried to find it; tried to tune the car. But it wasn’t quite there. Maybe it would have been towards the end. A really unfortunate way to end a tough weekend. We’ll get through it.”

If there’s a saving grace for Hildebrand ahead of next week’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park, it’s that the Ed Carpenter Racing team’s best performances of 2017 have come on short ovals, and Hildebrand has scored two podium finishes at Phoenix (third place) and Iowa (second).

For Hinchcliffe, Gateway represents the final oval for the SPM team to get some kind of result – his 10th place at Iowa is the team’s only top-10 result in the five oval races this season.