Schmidt Peterson A Big Story In The Making

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 23 2016
The IndyCar Series team fielded by Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, will be well represented in Sunday's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

The IndyCar Series team fielded by Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, will be well represented in Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Team Inspiration, otherwise known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, ruled Pole Day qualifications at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday as the starting field was set for the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

bugindy500James Hinchcliffe, who nearly lost his life on the 2.5-mile IMS oval one year ago in a crash during Indy 500 practice, claimed the first pole of his Verizon IndyCar Series career with a four-lap/10-mile average of 230.760 mph as final driver in the Fast Nine Shootout.

Earlier Sunday, team-founder Sam Schmidt _ a quadriplegic since crashing an Indy car in testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in 2000_ completed his own “qualification run” driving the Arrow Electronics Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) Project’s modified 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Using his breathing and neck movements to drive, Schmidt improved his pace each lap to reach trap speeds of more than 150 mph while averaging more than 105 mph for the four-lap sprint.

Does anyone in Hollywood see a movie script here?

“I don’t know,” Hinchcliffe quipped, “I think there’s still one big thing to check off the box before we start talking about movie rights.”

Hinchcliffe, who claimed the Verizon P1 Award and $100,000 prize, will lead the 33-car field to the green flag in his No. 5 Honda Sunday for the race’s traditional flying start. SPM’s Mikhail Aleshin, the first Russian-born driver to compete in the series, will start seventh in his No. 7 Honda while

Schmidt Peterson driver James Hinchcliffe will start P1 in the 2016 Indy 500.

Schmidt Peterson driver James Hinchcliffe will start P1 in the 2016 Indy 500.

teammate Oriol Servia rebounded from a disappointing effort Saturday to qualify 10th in the  No. 77 Honda fielded by Schmidt Peterson with Marotti Racing.

“It was an incredible day,” said Schmidt, who formed his team in 2001 and added Canadian businessman Ric Peterson as an equity partner in 2013. “I didn’t think anything would get better than five years agoI had three cars in the top-10 then and to come out here today…you know, James was 17th on the ‘no-tow sheet’ on FridayBut Oriol was up thereMikhail was up thereAnd true team effort between here and there.

I almost didn’t drive today because I was so amped-up for the possibilities hereBut to be able to do the 105 average and hit 152 at the stripe was a personal goal for me ever since I was here last time in 2014, and that car, you know, drove flawlessly and it was because of a great team behind me.

“James, he’s kind of downplaying this (pole) thingBut I was there a year ago (when Hinchcliffe crashed), and he was not nearly as pretty as he is right now, you know?”

Seated next to his co-owners during a post-race news conference, Hinchcliffe said:  “And that’s saying something because look at me now.”

Hinchcliffe qualified 24th last May with a four-lap/10-mile average of 223.519 mph. During post-qualifying practice on the following Monday (May 18), Hinchcliffe crashed into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3. The impact flattened the right side of the car and pinned Hinchcliffe inside, with one of the suspension wishbones penetrating the Dallara safety cell. The steel wishbone entered and exited Hinchcliffe’s right leg and upper left thigh, continuing into his pelvic region.

Members of the series’ Holmatro Safety Team cut the wishbone from the chassis to free Hinchcliffe, who was bleeding profusely, from the wreckage. The Safety Team’s quick response is credited with saving the popular Canadian’s life.

“I mean, I try not to think about that,” said Hinchcliffe, a 29-year-old native of Toronto. “We still have a long race to get throughBut I think one day I’ll appreciate it a little bit more maybe than I’m letting myself todayIt’s crazyI’ve said it already a hundred times just on the way over here, but it’s incredible what a difference a year makes.

It all starts with these two guys here, Ric Peterson and Sam SchmidtThey put together such an incredible organizationThey were so, so behind me after what happened last yearThey could not

It was one happy weekend for members of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar team.

It was one happy weekend for members of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar team.

have been any more supportiveThey built this incredible team of guys that went out and built three race cars good enough to start in the top-10 of the 100th running of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’

“These guys are great and all the crew guys have put all the hours working on those cars back in FebruaryYou know, 10 miles is one thing, 500 is another, we know thatWe still have a lot of work to doThere’s a lot of quick cars in the field.

“But this is definitely a point of pride today for all the hard work the guys have done back at the shop, support from Arrow Electronics and Honda stepping-up huge this yearThey’ve done such an incredible jobThat thing was a dream to driveYou have to hang it out here at Indy in qualifying.”

Hinchcliffe collected his first series pole for what will be his 79th race by edging Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing by a mere 0.0407-seconds over the 10-mile run. “I’ve missed the pole twice by fractions,” Hinchcliffe said. ”I kind of felt bad for Josef _ not that bad for Josef because I’ve been there before.” Newgarden qualified his No. 21 Chevrolet at 230.700 mph.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion, rounded out the three-car front row at 230.648 mph in his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.

“That’s a fun front row for sure,” Hinchcliffe said of the two Americans. “We have the best seat in the house for the biggest race in history.”

Hinchcliffe delivered Honda its first Indy 500 pole in five years, also with Schmidt Peterson and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani, and first since Chevrolet re-entered the series as an engine manufacturer in 2012. It also ended Team Penske’s string of seven consecutive poles in all Verizon IndyCar Series races _ ironically, as Roger Penske’s juggernaut is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. The pole also is Honda’s first in series competition since the second race of the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, 31 races ago and again with Schmidt Peterson.

“It’s incredible. It’s five years to the day that we did this with Tagliani,” Schmidt said. “For the 100th running, we’ve put an effort into this since last September. It’s been an all-around team effort. Obviously, I can’t turn a wrench, but my god, the things that happened today!”

One driver away from claiming P1, Newgarden could only watch as his bid to join team-owner Carpenter as an Indy 500 pole-winner fell short.  “It was a tough pill to swallow,” Newgarden said. “I try to remind myself it’s not just about today’s battle, it’s about the war, and we’ve got to try and get that done next week in the 500. But it was still a lot of fun, just to be up there and have this opportunity to compete.”

Row 2 is filled by a pair of Andretti Autosport drivers, Townsend Bell (fourth) and Carlos Munoz (fifth), along with Team Penske’s Will Power (sixth). Qualifying in Row 3 were Aleshin (seventh) and a pair of Penske aces _ season point-leader Simon Pagenaud (eighth) and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (ninth). Servia, meanwhile, improved 14 positions en route to his 10th-place starting spot.

On the day he crashed, trackside timing and scoring data showed Hinchcliffe was traveling at approximately 228 mph before a suspension failure sent his car into the SAFER Barrier nose-first. The force of impact reportedly was measured at 125 Gs, placing it among the most violent for an open-wheel car at IMS.

Hinchcliffe was taken by ambulance to the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he underwent successful surgery to his pelvic area and upper left thigh. With the help of Power, Hinchcliffe exited the hospital on May 28 to begin a summer-long recovery regimen.

“He’s come back,” Schmidt said. “He committed to it and you just never know, right? You can ask and you can do all the work and you absolutely never know until you’ve got to mash the gas, and he did it todayHe did what nobody else could do todaySo I think that is a huge storyI would like to have the better one next weekend as well, but that would make a movie for sure.

“So, all credit to him reallyRic and I are really, really blessed bystanders here because we have built an incredible organization of guys that some have been around a long time and some haven’t been around very long at allThey really pulled together this weekHonda definitely stepped-up big time, because they will tell you I was yelling in their ears all last year and right up until about a week ago that they better pull a rabbit out of the hat here because this is the biggest race in the worldBy god, they did.”

Peterson, a resident of Calgary, Alberta, has over 25 years of business experience in a variety of industries, including over 15 years of oil and gas sector, as well as the hotel industry. His passion for motorsports saw him compete in the 1991 Toyota Atlantic Championship and the Canadian CASCAR series.

“I was very fortunate to hook-up with Sam back in 2013,” Peterson said. “We do have a great teamWe’ve got 50-some guys that don’t get any of the glory but they’re always working very, very hardAnd today was just a great dayAs soon as I knew we had three cars in the top-10 _ you know, pole was nice but we didn’t need it _ but I’m really proud of James and our team for putting that car there.”

Hinchcliffe said Schmidt continues to inspire him, just as his boss has followed the lead of paralyzed Formula One team-owner Sir Frank Williams.

“He (Schmidt) was one of the greatest assets to have with everything that happened last year, especially to my family, to my parents, because he had been through something like that,” Hinchcliffe said. “He kind of knew the story, he knew the score and I know that helped them a tremendous amountBeing able to talk to him about it personally helped me a tremendous amount.”

Schmidt first drove the SAM car at IMS in 2014. Since then, he has proven the technology’s abilities on the street course at Long Beach, Calif., the winding permanent road-course at Sonoma, Calif., and the Phoenix International Raceway short-oval.

“It’s a full-circle moment for me,” Schmidt said after parking at the Yard of Bricks on pit road. “Sixteen years ago, I thought I’d never drive again. For me to come out in such a high-performance vehicle and go pretty darned fast, it was really cool. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Schmidt controls the throttle and brakes with his breath, blowing through a tube to accelerate and sucking through it to brake, and turns the car with 3D camera glasses. As he turns his head, the steering wheel turns in the same direction.

Schmidt is aligned with Arrow Technologies, primary sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s pole-winning car, to work toward improving the lives of people with disabilities. Schmidt said Arrow undertook the SAM Project, modifying the Corvette to allow Schmidt to control it, to help people with disabilities and push the project forward at a rapid rate.

“Arrow has a five-year-out initiative where they keep pushing things and seeing five years ahead, and what it’s capable of,” Schmidt said. “For everybody, their motto is ‘Technology is there to improve people’s lives.’ For people with disabilities, that’s a greater impact. It’s fantastic to be a part of that.”

Hinchcliffe stood in pit lane as Schmidt got up-to-speed.  Frankly, what I did today pales in comparison,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was here two years ago when he went around there and did his first qualifying run in that car and there wasn’t a dry eye on pit lane, my own includedHaving a guy like that in your stable and being able to bounce things off him is greatI can’t wait for next year when he makes it 175.

“You’re the one who said to me right before I went out, ‘Go get pole!’^”

The field features six former winners _ Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, two-time/reigning champion Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Buddy Lazier. Five rookies also qualified _Matt Brabham, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Alexander Rossi and Stefan Wilson.

Two more practice sessions are available this week. Cars will be on-track Monday from 12:30-4 p.m. (ET) and for Miller Lite Carb Day practice from 11 a.m.-noon Friday. The legendary 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for Sunday, with coverage beginning at 11 a.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 23 2016
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