|Since Tony George took his hammer to the sport, it's all about which driver can raise enough money to buy a ride|
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt says NASCAR driver Brian Vickers and the late Justin Wilson's brother, Stefan, are still possibilities for the team's third car in the Indy 500.
The team owner, whose other candidates include – but are not confined to – trusty veteran Oriol Servia and Verizon IndyCar Series sophomore Gabby Chaves, told Motorsport.com: "The same four or five guys have been circling the sandbox for the last 45 days. One week one of them will be all fired up and there'll be LOIs [letters of intent] exchanged…and then nothing happens and it's left hanging.
"We seem to be spending a lot of time on it at the moment, which I hoped not to be doing by now, but that's the nature of the business. So let me put it this way: as of this morning, the door's still open to all!"
Schmidt, whose team took pole at the 2011 Indy 500 with Alex Tagliani, confirmed that rookies Vickers and Wilson remain in the running for the third SPM seat on Memorial Day Weekend.
Vickers, who has three NASCAR Sprint Cup wins to his name, is currently subbing for the recuperating Tony Stewart in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, but is renowned for his open-minded interest in all forms of motorsport. Despite medical issues including blood clotting and also a patch in his heart that his body rejected two years ago, the 32-year-old has taken opportunities outside of NASCAR, and in 2012 he raced an AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia in the 6 Hours of Spa and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Wilson, who finished third in the 2011 Indy Lights championship, has started one IndyCar race, the 2013 Baltimore Grand Prix, partnering his much-lamented brother Justin at Dale Coyne Racing. Since then, Stefan has been part of the IndyCar 2-seater program while also fulfilling his main job as driver coach for ace Mazda Road To Indy squad, Team Pelfrey. motorsport.com
04/08/16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner Brian Vickers could contest this year's Indianapolis 500 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Vickers raced for Hendrick Motorsports and Red Bull in NASCAR before missing most of the 2010 season with what emerged as blood clotting issues.
While he returned in 2011, the issue has prevented him from racing full-time since.
The 32-year-old is currently filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, finishing seventh at Martinsville last weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I would love to have something to announce [but] unfortunately there is nothing to announce at this point," Vickers admitted.
"It is still on the table. It's not done, but it's not off the table yet either.
"We will continue exploring that and if it happens great, if not, move on to the next opportunity and maybe next year."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports fields James Hinchcliffe – who returned to the scene of his 2015 accident on Wednesday – and Mikhail Aleshin in the IndyCar Series.
Vickers would fill a potential third entry, but Stewart's lack of a clear return date is among the factors.
"I would love to race anything, quite honestly – the Indy 500 would be one of them," Vickers said at Texas Motor Speedway, before this weekend's NASCAR event.
"I would love to run Le Mans again. I would love to race sportscars.
"I would love to be in this car [Stewart's NASCAR]. I am really enjoying this opportunity as well.
"I'm open to all of those opportunities – Indy is one of them." Autosport
|We doubt Brian Vickers will be running the Indy 500. SPM needs money for the third car and NASCAR drivers get paid to race.|
The race to land one of the most coveted open seats for the Indy 500 is winding down as a NASCAR driver, an Indy veteran, a new team, and the most recent Rookie of the Year chase the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry.
RACER has learned current Stewart-Haas Racing Sprint cup driver Brian Vickers, who is filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, nine-time Indy 500 starter Townsend Bell, the new Grace Autosport team, and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series/Indy 500 RoY Gabby Chaves are in the running for SPM's available Dallara DW12-Honda.
"Those four are on the list, and we'd really like to run any of those people," Schmidt told RACER.
Among the four options, Bell has the most experience with the team, having raced for SPM at Indy from 2010-2012 with a best finish of ninth. The Grace team, owned by Beth Paretta, has Katherine Legge as its driver for the 500, and from her two starts at the 500, the most recent came in a last-minute deal with SPM in 2013 where she qualified 33rd and placed 26th. Grace is also known to be in discussion with other teams about partnering for the 500.
Chaves, who was unexpectedly released by Bryan Herta Autosport weeks before the season opener at St Petersburg, has targeted a return for the Indy 500 where he started 26th and finished 16th – on the heels of defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay – on his debut last year. The Colombian-American driver stood in for SPM's Mikhail Aleshin (RIGHT) during pre-season testing and earned rave reviews from the team for his immediate pace and chassis feedback.
With the allure of the 100th Indy 500 in mind, more first-timers like Vickers could try to make the race, although according to Schmidt, running a driver with no recent open-wheel experience on the sport's biggest stage could be a stumbling block.
"I'd think Brian is the least likely only because he hasn't done it before and we're unsure if he'll still be driving for Tony [Stewart], so with that unknown, it's hard to figure out the costs and the logistics," Schmidt said. "Granted, he's very experienced and very mature, so I'm sure he'd get the job done, but I'm not sure we need any distractions with a rookie. He's an option, though, and we aren't ruling him out. I know how badly he wants to be in the race. We're still trying to find money for all of them, they're all trying to find money, but it's not completely there."
Whoever reaches the funding finish line will partner with full-time SPM drivers James Hinchcliffe and Aleshin. Schmidt expects to have a deal done before the month of May arrives, but doubts it will happen in a timely manner.
"We've been working on all three cars and think we have a good program, but we can't do [the third car] for free," he said. "We don't have any internal sponsorship, and I find it amazing that it's the 100th running of the Indy 500 and nobody seems to have all the money they need. It's frustrating." RACER