For Schmidt, first win as an IndyCar owner a long time coming

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Sam Schmidt has been a part of the IndyCar scene since the Indy Racing League iteration, back in 1997. He’s never won an IndyCar race as a team owner, until Sunday in Detroit with Simon Pagenaud’s No. 77 HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda.

Asked how this compares to his more frequent winning in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, where the team has won the last three championships, Schmidt had a one-liner ready to go.

“This is better,” he laughed.

“I don’t know if I’d give up all those wins and championships for this, but this is really huge,” he said. “I know what Simon is feeling like right now because I had a chance to win one race as a driver (Las Vegas, 1999). It’s been a long road, a long journey these last 13, 14 years. Obviously, we wouldn’t be here today without Ric (Peterson) and Davey (Hamilton).”

Schmidt’s career path as a team owner is almost as circuitous as that of his lead driver and Detroit race two winner.

He didn’t choose the ownership path; a devastating testing accident at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando in 2000 left him paralyzed from the waist down. Come 2001, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, the team, was around in its first iteration.

Schmidt forged his path as an owner in Indy Lights, where between 2004 and 2012 he has won six championships and more than 50 races. He returned to IndyCar team ownership after the 2010 season, when he bought out the FAZZT Race Team co-owned by Alex Tagliani.

Tagliani drove for Schmidt into 2011, before a late-season driver change saw Tagliani replaced by that year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at Kentucky Speedway. Of course, tragedy struck at the Las Vegas season finale that year, when Wheldon was killed in a multicar accident.

It was undoubtedly the lowest point in Schmidt’s ownership career, but the team soldiered on into 2012 with Pagenaud as its new driver. The single-car team finished fifth in the championship, and Pagenaud won IndyCar Rookie-of-the-Year honors with four podium finishes.

Peterson has bought into the team this year, which now fields a second full-time car for rookie Tristan Vautier and also added a last minute third at the Indianapolis 500 for Katherine Legge.

Schmidt reflected on the recent grind of events leading to this victory on Sunday, and how the team has grown.

“We’ve grown substantially over the last couple years to I think 38 employees, partners there,” Schmidt said. “They’ve all meshed really well. I think we have a fantastic chemistry amongst all the guys. We’re all pushing the same direction. Nobody had their heads down. They knew what they had to do and they got it done.”

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.