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.

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.