INDIANAPOLIS – There are many unfortunate realities that come with the situation when a driver is out indefinitely, as James Hinchcliffe is for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after his accident on Monday.
One for the team, of course, is that they had to figure out a replacement for the Indianapolis 500 and subsequently the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season from there.
In Ryan Briscoe, SPM has a solution for Sunday. He banked roughly 15 to 20 laps in a refresher session on Thursday and was immediately up to 220 mph, as he got dialed into the car in his first IndyCar running in nine months.
But with the Australian busy with sports car commitments at Le Mans for Corvette Racing from the following weekend, SPM will have a decision on its hands in terms of filling the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda for Detroit and beyond.
SPM team co-owner Ric Peterson told MotorSportsTalk Thursday at Indianapolis that the team is targeting to have the driver selected by Monday next week, after the Indianapolis 500 is complete with Briscoe in the No. 5 car.
Peterson’s business partner and fellow co-owner Sam Schmidt, meanwhile, is trying to focus just on this weekend first.
“I don’t know if I’m thinking much past Friday,” Schmidt told assembled reporters Thursday at IMS. “I haven’t got much sleep.
“James is our guy. We have a long-term contract with him. It’s been exciting to see the progress the last couple days. It could be some surprises as soon as we see him back.
“But for Ric and I it’s been crazy. ‘Hey, we gotta find a driver.’ To be honest we haven’t approached anyone. We love Ryan, but he has to do some European commitments. So it’s a 48-hour question. Get through Sunday and we really want to do well. That’s our total focus right now.”
Two drivers who figure to be vying for the open seat will be racing in other Honda-powered entries Sunday in the Indianapolis 500.
Conor Daly is SPM’s third driver, driving the Smithfield Foods-backed No. 43 FUELED by BACON Special Honda that basically is a screaming testament to red, white, and blue.
Justin Wilson is one of Andretti Autosport’s two extra drivers (fourth and fifth), in the No. 25 Honda that lacks a primary sponsor.
Both are in their final scheduled starts of the year as it stands, and both would seem to be obvious candidates for Detroit and beyond in the No. 5 car.
For Daly, who has worked tirelessly for his first full-time shot in IndyCar these last few years and particularly the last few months, it would make a lot of sense on several levels.
“If it happened, well, it would certainly be the biggest opportunity of my career,” Daly told MotorSportsTalk at IMS media day. “But you never know what will happen. Sam has to make a business decision.
“No matter what, he wants to make the right decision for the team, the sponsor ARROW is very important, and they’re very supportive of the team. Whatever decision Sam makes will be good, and we’ll see what happens.”
While the quote is a diplomatic, politically correct answer, the change in tone Daly had when asked indicated, to me anyway, a burning desire to finally earn this opportunity – even though it would come under challenging circumstances.
Wilson, meanwhile, is hailed by many as one of the best drivers in the paddock, and the frustration he’s faced from being sidelined this year after 10 full-time seasons has been evident.
“It’s been tough, tough going to the track, watching, or watching on TV at home. It’s not an easy deal,” Wilson said at IMS media day. “It was nice to finally get here to Indy and be part of it. My wife’s been very patient having me at home! As a driver you’re so competitive, you’re looking for the next opportunity.”
Asked whether he had had any conversations with Schmidt as yet, Wilson responded there was nothing he could talk about at this point.
Figure one way or another there will be things to talk about early next week, depending on which of these two – or whether another candidate – emerges as the next pick to fill in for one of racing’s most genuine, yet humorous, characters.