In recent days and weeks, speculation has been rife over who will fill one of two likely final entries for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Last month, and this came as a shock to many, but RACER.com discovered that NASCAR race winner and current part-timer Brian Vickers had entered the frame of discussion for the seat.
Vickers followed up on the possibility during a media availability at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, where he is filling in for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“I would love to have something to announce [but] unfortunately there is nothing to announce at this point,” Vickers said.
“It is still on the table. It’s not done, but it’s not off the table yet either.”
The connection makes more sense when you realize Vickers and Jay Frye have worked together before at Red Bull’s NASCAR operation; Frye is now INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations.
Other candidates revealed publicly include Stefan Wilson, Gabby Chaves and Oriol Servia, as noted in this Motorsport.com piece.
If it’s those four who are in the frame for one seat, inevitably three of them would be left high, dry and disappointed.
And while storyline-wise all four of them make sense, only one and maybe two are feasible from a realistic helping the team for this month of May standpoint.
Vickers would draw the most attention from a 10,000 feet above, national standpoint. Everyone loves a comeback story and Vickers’ return to racing after persistent blood clots has been one of the more remarkable in recent memory.
With Kurt Busch having ruled out a run a couple weeks ago, if NASCAR wanted a driving link to this year’s 500, they’d have one in Vickers.
Realistically though, Vickers, 32, is the riskiest option. He’s never driven an IndyCar and would need to adapt quickly to his new environment, and the style of driving.
That said, he’s certainly capable of it, given what he’s done in sports cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before. He’s done well in NASCAR despite adverse circumstances facing him; he’s been picked for fill-in roles for several years over others. That speaks to his adaptability in short time frames.
Wilson would tick the emotional boxes for several reasons. The 26-year-old Englishman has been working feverishly on a program working to introduce solar to the Speedway for several months, and is keen to get back behind the wheel after an extended hiatus of his own.
Naturally, there’s also the desire of him wanting to be on the grid to fulfill the family legacy at the first ‘500 since his older brother Justin lost his life at Pocono. He’d be a heartwarming story, and he also has the talent and relevant open-wheel experience to jump in. He has raced at the Speedway before in Indy Lights, and has one career IndyCar start (2013 at Baltimore).
Chaves, 22, would measure up nicely from a perseverance standpoint. The Colombian-American did everything right last year despite running with a single-car team and a smaller budget. That Bryan Herta did nearly everything to keep him even as he was trying to ensure his team stayed in the sport, now partnered with Andretti Autosport, spoke volumes of what he thinks of Chaves.
And Gabby’s got the most recent team experience of these four, too. He tested nicely for Schmidt Peterson at both Phoenix and Sebring to help get the car more in the window for the opening rounds of the season. Mikhail Aleshin finishing fifth at St. Petersburg probably doesn’t happen without Chaves’ data and feedback from the Sebring test. He’s also kept his face out there at both events, ensuring he’s staying in the frame without being in a car. Few realize how truly talented he is.
Lastly, there’s Servia, 41, who doesn’t have the huge story line angle but would be the best of the bunch from a pure feedback and development standpoint – especially with new aerodynamic components coming into play this year the Speedway.
Servia would be the rock to aid Hinchcliffe and Aleshin back to stability and comfort after both drivers return for their first big oval races since devastating, near-fatal accidents – Hinchcliffe in practice last year at Indianapolis, and Aleshin, in night practice in 2014 at Fontana.
It’s no disrespect to the other three, but there’s a reason Servia has made a career in this series for the better part of 15 years with 13 different teams, for 198 career races. He is as plug-and-play as you get, and when your last three starts have been for three different teams (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske), the latter two with barely more than 24 hours notice, you know you can install him to do the job.
SPM is going to be a story line at this year’s Indianapolis 500 to begin with, given both drivers’ big oval race returns.
The team’s storyline may only go greater depending on who gets the nod in the team’s third car.