Schmidt Peterson Indy Lights program ceases operations

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)