Sam Schmidt Motorsports made a strong statement entering the season-opening Firestone Indy Lights race next week by dominating Wednesday's Indy Lights portion of the IndyCar Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park.
Josef Newgarden, who will drive the No. 11 car for Schmidt's team this year, led the day with a lap of 1:15.6711 on the 2.38-mile road course. Newgarden topped both sessions, while his teammates, Esteban Guerrieri (No. 7 car) and Victor Carbone (No. 3 car) were second and third, respectively, on the time sheets in the afternoon session.
"It was a strong day for all of Sam Schmidt Motorsports," Newgarden said. "We've had a good form over all of testing, and this kind of reassured us that we are in good form and not sort of guessing. It's still early. We have a lot of work to do. We have a couple more test days to run before the first race at St. Pete, so we just need to keep it up."
Team Moore Racing's Gustavo Yacaman was second overall (1:15.9719) followed by Guerrieri, Jensen MotorSport's David Ostella and Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Conor Daly. In all, the top nine drivers were within a second of each other.
Indy Lights testing notebook:
• Al Unser Jr. (LEFT, with Conor Daly) has expanded his role as a race official with IndyCar to include driver coach for Firestone Indy Lights. IndyCar has utilized some of the sport's greatest drivers as mentors, including Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears and Al Unser, since the inception of Firestone Indy Lights in 2002.
"I'm truly looking forward to helping the next generation of IndyCar drivers in any way I can," Unser said. "There are a lot of great drivers who have come through Indy Lights, which has a great tradition. It is the future of our sport, and we get to introduce them to the way we run the IndyCars. Many come from road racing backgrounds so the ovals are new to them. It's another way of giving back to the sport that's given me so much."
Drivers are encouraged to seek out the driver coach for expertise regarding how to handle a particular section of a racetrack to the intricacies of setting up and completing a pass on an oval.
"In my day, the Mazda Road to Indy series, particularly Indy Lights, didn't exist as a training ground," Unser said. "It was Super Vee or Atlantics, but my dad was a great help in coaching me during that point in my career. I just try to remember what I was feeling like at tracks – which was very excited and anxious, not knowing what the next day is going to bring. And that's where these kids are, so I try to let them know it's just another racecar but to respect it as something that can be good to you and be bad to you in split seconds.
"I'll get to know these drivers as the year goes along and help where I can."
• Irish driver Peter Dempsey linked up with O2 Racing Technology for the Open Test in hopes of securing a full-time ride with the team in 2011.
The 25-year-old Dublin native is one of the most successful Star Mazda drivers, winning nine times over his two years of competition in the series. In 2009, Dempsey finished second in points just 12 points behind the eventual champion Adam Christodoulou and finished third in the points in 2008.
"I am very excited to test in the Firestone Indy Lights series for O2," Dempsey said. "To get behind the wheel and show what I can do with this car is what every driver lives for. We are at that really interesting time of the year when all the hard work off the track, putting together funding and staying in shape, starts to pay off. For now though, I can't wait to get in the car and show what I can do. I would like to thank the team for all the effort they have put in to get to this point."
Dempsey already had an impressive list of accomplishments before coming to the U.S. to race. He's won won three championships, more than 35 races and won the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy three times. Dempsey comes from a racing family – his father Cliff is a longtime Formula Ford entrant and has fielded the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy car for the Team USA Scholarship drivers for the past three years.
• Sam Schmidt Motorsports brought in 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion Alex Lloyd to mentor rookie driver Victor Carbone during its recent test at Sebring International Raceway and for the Open Test.
"It's something I can do that's involved in racing, while I'm waiting to find out if I'm going to be racing," said Lloyd, who won the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year with Dale Coyne Racing. "If my schedule allows it, I'll probably do more of it. If I have less time available, obviously, I'll be doing less of it."
Lloyd, who drove for SSM in 2007, is still hopeful of securing at least a partial schedule to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series and said he has "a few options still in the works." Carbone hopes that Lloyd is available for a bit longer.
"It's great when you get to work with a driver with that much experience," Carbone said. "Alex is a big reason why we've made as much progress as we have."