Personnel from the Sam Schmidt Motorsports IZOD IndyCar Series team will be blogging throughout the season for RACER.com. First up: Team manager Rob Edwards (LEFT), with driver Alex Tagliani).
Last year here on RACER.com, we invited you to “Ask FAZZT” a variety of questions. That was fun and really showed a deep level of interest and knowledge in our team and in open-wheel racing as a whole. This year, with so many changes including the arrival of Sam Schmidt as our new owner, we thought it would be great to let various team members have their say, so throughout the year, you'll have blogs from myself, or Allen McDonald, Alex Tagliani, Sam himself, and others to give you a perspective of life here at SSM now that the king of Indy Lights team owners has graduated to the big cars and become our team owner.
So, let's start with that huge moment that happened less than a month before our opening race at St. Petersburg. I can honestly say that it's only changed for the better. Sam's been great, and he was astute enough not to change a lot of things and instead let us continue with what we'd been doing over the winter. His arrival as team owner provides a lot of stability for us as well as leadership from someone who's been around racing for a long time, who understands how racing works and who understands how the series works. His enthusiasm for being involved in IndyCar again has, frankly, helped to energize all of us.
It was a fairly open secret that Sam, like quite a few potential IndyCar team owners, was looking at the rule changes for 2012 as the ideal time to join – or in some cases, rejoin – the IZOD IndyCar Series. However, Sam watches what goes on in the paddock and I think he'd seen what we built last year, so when the opportunity was there, he took it. As he said, if he's already in the series in 2011 it's a lot easier for him to sell sponsorship for 2012 than if he had just been going around this year telling people that he wants to be in IndyCar for 2012. He saw what was once FAZZT as a turn-key operation with a lot of the things already in place, and that was preferable to building from 2012.
Early on, Sam and I spent a few days together, and it's a good relationship. He is there if I need him but he doesn't interfere day to day. We talk a couple of times a day – we're in Indianapolis and he lives in Vegas – and he is involved in what I describe as a supportive nature. He's there when we need him, he's there to make it better, but if everything is working well he isn't into making change just for change's sake.
Now, Sam Schmidt Motorsports is a great team in Firestone Indy Lights already, and so you'll realize this is a properly run operation, with smart thinking and strategic planning for the future. That's really key for us in the medium term, with more facilities and technical resources to put a lot of attention on the 2012 season while simultaneously running hard in 2011. Before Sam came along, our plan was that up until May we were going to focus on the Indy 500. But, the new cars in 2012 are an opportunity and a lot of the people who are here now went through a similar reboot with the Panoz in Champ Car in 2007. We saw how the new car gave a team like Walker Racing the opportunity to make up ground on people who'd had the old Lola for a long time. So, starting after May, there is certainly a plan to commit a certain amount of resource to the 2012 program and Sam has endorsed that. I think Sam sees the same things that we see, and will give us more tools to be able to enact the plan.
That does not make the 2011 season a throwaway year at all. We are constantly monitoring our performances and trying to improve them. When we look back at last year, there were some road and street courses where we were very good and some ovals where we were very good, as well. The thing that let us down over the course of the whole year is there were also some road, street and oval tracks where we were pretty average. So, the focus has really been to improve to become podium finishers in our stronger events, and figure out why we were only average or bad at others. If we can improve our bad events to the level we were at in our better events last year, and take the good ones from last year and further improve on them, then that will give us a really good foundation moving forward. In short, the goal is really to be more consistent than we were last year.