Edwards: Schmidt Peterson Indy Lights program set to continue

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INDIANAPOLIS – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team manager Rob Edwards has revealed its Indy Lights program plans to continue for 2015, with the introduction of the new Dallara IL15 chassis.

The expectation, Edwards said, is that the new Indy Lights car will produce a car count much higher than the current 8-10 car level of the last two years, closer to 15-16 in 2015, to where the SPM portion isn’t a high percentage of the field.

“We want to continue; Sam’s history is built on Lights, and success in Lights,” Edwards told MotorSportsTalk at James Hinchcliffe’s signing at Flat 12 Bierworks in Indianapolis.

“From our point of view, it doesn’t make sense to invest in new equipment if we’re 50 percent of the field again. Our requirement, or threshold, is like 16 cars or so running around. If Dan can get to that sort of number we will be part of it.”

Edwards expects to have a final decision taken within the next two to three weeks. But the team is planning to hire additional engineering strength for the Indy Lights program.

“We need some other engineering for the Lights program as well (besides Hinchcliffe’s), so we’re taking a company-wide approach,” he said.

Edwards said Indy Lights is important to make bigger as the final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Schmidt has seen many of its Lights drivers go onto IndyCar careers, although Josef Newgarden (2011 champ) has had the longest staying power in IndyCar among its last four champions (JK Vernay, Newgarden, Tristan Vautier and Sage Karam from 2010 through 2013).

“We believe the stepping stones to get to IndyCar need to be there,” he said. “It’s too big a jump from (Pro) Mazda straight to IndyCar.

“But when you win the championship, you want to have had your driver race against a deep enough field where it means something.”

As for drivers, one of SPM’s 2014 drivers, Jack Harvey, was in attendance Tuesday night. The Englishman, who stormed through the field in the second half of the season with four wins in the last five races, is hopeful of a second season. Harvey only lost the Indy Lights title to Gabby Chaves, a former SPM driver, on a tiebreaker.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds