2012 Firestone Indy Lights Champion Tristan Vautier will join Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports at Sebring International Raceway later this week for his first outing in an IZOD IndyCar Series car. The 23-year-old Frenchman has some funding to assist his move into IndyCar as his prize for taking the Lights championship.
SSM will conduct a two-day test with its regular IZOD IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud driving the No. 77 SSM's Dallara-Honda on Wednesday. Vautier will step into the car on Thursday while Pagenaud remains behind to help him learn the nuances of the bigger car.
“It's going to be totally new for me, so I can't set any goals regarding where I want to end-up performance wise,” Vautier told IndyCar.com. “I will go to Sebring without putting any pressure on myself but instead focus on what the IZOD IndyCar Series guys at SSM have to teach me and how I can learn efficiently. My goal is to improve all day long and learn as much as I can."
Vautier has proven to be a quick study throughout his career. This season – his rookie year in Indy Lights – he won his first race and went on to win the championship. In 2011, his rookie year in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, he also won his first race on his way to winning that title.
“I know there will be a learning process in taking this step as there always is when you move to a different car,” Vautier said. “I'm just happy and honored to be taking this step with SSM after they brought me the Lights title this year.”
Team owner Sam Schmidt said he was happy to help his Indy Lights champ take the next step.
“Tristan had such a great year with us in Firestone Indy Lights, and he truly deserves this chance to test in an IndyCar,” Schmidt said. “The Mazda Road to Indy ladder system is about welcoming and supporting new talent as they grow in their careers, and we have all collectively come together with support from our partners Honda and Firestone, to make this test a reality for Tristan.”
Schmidt Hamilton has already re-signed Pagenaud for its lead Dallara-Honda but is open to adding a second car for 2013. Rubens Barrichello had initially been considered the front-runner for that seat but is now also considering options elsewhere in IndyCar, as well as in the Brazilian V8 Stock Car series.
Vautier is one of two drivers who will be making their first runs in an IndyCar at Sebring, after A.J. Foyt Racing announced last week that it would run Indy Lights and GP3 racer Conor Daly in its car during the test.