Schmidt Peterson Indy Lights program ceases operations

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Sam Schmidt’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, will not answer the bell in 2017, NBC Sports has learned.

Multiple sources indicated the SPM Indy Lights team has ceased operations this week, which brings to an end one of the longest running and most successful tenures in the championship.

Trackside Online, via the TSO Ladder site, spoke to both team co-owner Schmidt and Andersen Promotions president/CEO Dan Andersen to confirm the news.

“It’s positive economics on the IndyCar side, and negative economics on the Indy Lights side. I didn’t have enough time to devote to it and that’s why we haven’t been able to find any drivers for 2017 with funding,” Schmidt told TSO.

You can view that full report here. An SPM team spokesperson told NBC Sports they expected to have more information regarding the Lights program status on Tuesday.

The team dropped from fielding four full-time cars to two midseason this year, after RC Enerson’s season had been hamstrung by various mechanical issues, and the choice was made to reallocate his available budget to pursue an IndyCar opportunity.

Meanwhile the fourth car, shared by Scott Anderson and Heamin Choi, dropped to a part-time entry after the Freedom 100 and only reappeared later in the year on two more race weekends (Iowa and Monterey).

It left Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao as Schmidt’s only two bullets in the gun for the rest of the campaign, although both drivers had a good second half of the year.

The new-look Indy Lights series – then called the Infiniti Pro Series – was launched in 2002 and Schmidt was there from the start. A couple years later, the team took the series by storm.

Starting with Thiago Medeiros in 2004, Schmidt went on to capture seven Lights championships in a 10-year run. The series changed names in 2008 back to Indy Lights from Infiniti and Indy Pro.

After Medeiros, Jay Howard (2006), Alex Lloyd (2007), JK Vernay (2010), Josef Newgarden (2011), Tristan Vautier (2012) and Sage Karam (2013) all won titles for Schmidt, and the team had several others who won races for them.

In recent years though, Schmidt’s team has come up gut-wrenchingly short in title terms, 0-3 since. Gabby Chaves – who’d driven for Schmidt in 2013 – beat new Schmidt recruit Jack Harvey on a tiebreaker the following year in 2014.

Harvey also fell short in 2015 to Spencer Pigot and Juncos Racing, which beat the veterans in their step up from the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

This year, Urrutia held the edge in points going into the final month of the season, but a strategic misfire at Watkins Glen that led to a puncture, and the controversial ending at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where Felix Serralles let Ed Jones by on the last lap, doomed Urrutia’s title chances.

It changes the ballgame quite a bit for Indy Lights, with these cars and additional equipment now set to become available for other teams.

SPM’s IndyCar program will continue unaffected with at least two full-time cars, and potentially a third car for additional races. With this news, it could free up some personnel for that third car.