Silly Season: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
This is the fifth in a series of posts I’ve written regarding the 2015-16 silly season. It’s been a few weeks since my last one, but schedule announcements and other topics took precedence over my meanderings about what might happen on teams that may or may not have an open seat for next season. Like the other four in this series, this is not a prediction of what I think will happen. Instead it is simply me venting on what I think should happen. There’s a big difference. Today’s post deals with my wish-list for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
When James Hinchcliffe had his accident in the final Monday practice prior to Carb Day, we all knew it was a horrible looking accident. At the time however, most of us had no idea just how serious it really was. Fortunately, Hinch has already done some offseason testing in the No.5 Arrow car and all plans are to have him return to the cockpit full-time after missing two-thirds of the season.
Veteran driver Ryan Briscoe did an admirable job filling in for Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis. The driver change forced Briscoe to start at the back of the field. After getting caught up in the first-lap accident involving Takuma Sato and Sage Karam, Briscoe fought back all day and finished a respectable twelfth.
That same day, Sam Schmidt had two other drivers in the field. James Jakes was the full-time teammate to Hinchcliffe in the No.7 car, while Conor Daly was in a one-off situation in the No.43 car sponsored by Smithfield (fueled by bacon). Jakes qualified an unimpressive nineteenth and had an equally unimpressive eighteenth place finish. Daly had a much rougher time of it. His car caught fire on the Parade Lap and was done before the green flag even waved.
Daly was rewarded for his efforts with a turn in the No.5 car the next weekend in the double-header at Detroit. He could only manage a nineteenth place finish in the first race, but returned Sunday with an outstanding sixth place finish after qualifying tenth. Daly returned to the No. 5 for one final race at Toronto, where he had a respectable twelfth place finish, after qualifying nineteenth.
The remainder of the races run after Indianapolis saw Ryan Briscoe in the No.5 car. After it looked as if Briscoe would be shut out of the Indianapolis 500 and the bulk of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season – Briscoe made the most of his unfortunate opportunity as the fill-in for the injured Hinchcliffe.
Briscoe had an average finish of 11.8 for the eight races he ran this past year. That would’ve been much higher had he not been taken out on the last lap at Fontana and been sent flipping and rotating through the grass on the front-stretch. While not outstanding, 11.8 is still much better than the 15.9 average finish that James Jakes had over the entire sixteen race season.
All reports indicated that Briscoe was very popular with the team; not only in his ability to communicate what the car needed, but by being very easy to work with and getting as much out of the car as he did.
James Hinchcliffe will return to the No.5 car at SPM, as he should. In the five races he ran in the car this past season; he won one of those, had a seventh and two twelfth place finishes. That’s not spectacular, but remember that he was working with a new crew on a new team. It takes time for chemistry to set in. I think his return to the team will be seamless in 2016.
But what of the No.7 car that was driven by James Jakes fulltime this past season? I won’t pretend to know of the funding situation on that car. In the past, Jakes had family sponsorship through Acorn Stairlifts. But I don’t know if he brought the Mediatech sponsorship that was more prominent on the car at the beginning of the season, or if the team found it. I did notice that Oculus, which is the company owned and founded by SPM co-owner Ric Peterson, was the prominent name on the sidepods as the season wore on. That tells me that the No.7 car was mostly funded by SPM, instead of Jakes.
I’ve never met James Jakes. Maybe if I had I would be more of a fan. I’m told he has a funny side to him, but he must keep it to himself. Whenever I see him interviewed, he has the demeanor of someone who is on their way to the proctologist. And while everyone insists he is coming into his own as a great driver, I still consider him to be a perennial backmarker.
If the sponsorship situation on the No.7 car is the way I think it is, I would be much more inclined to put Ryan Briscoe in that car in favor of Jakes. With Briscoe’s employment situation, I have an idea he could come fairly cheap. With Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 car and Briscoe in the No.7; Sam Schmidt would have a formidable one-two punch that would be capable of winning any given weekend. Between the two of them, Hinchcliffe and Briscoe have combined for eleven IndyCar wins – Hinch with four and Briscoe with seven.
They also bring a wealth of experience to the table and have driven for the best teams in the business. Hinchcliffe spent time at Newman/Haas and Andretti Autosport, while Briscoe had stints at Penske and Ganassi. Combined, they bring 244 IndyCar starts to the table. Technically, they both have a combined thirteen career poles – but that’s a little misleading. Briscoe has all of them. Unbelievably, Hinch has none. That’s like saying between Rick Mears, Arie Luyendyk and Dennis Vitolo, they share six Indianapolis 500 victories combined.
In addition to these credentials, Sam Schmidt would have two of the most marketable drivers in the paddock. James Hinchcliffe could moonlight as a comedian, and Ryan Briscoe is one of the most pleasant and affable drivers in any series.
So will any of this come to fruition? It’s hard to say, but I think it’s more than just a pipe dream. Sam Schmidt really likes Ryan Briscoe and strongly considered him for his third car at Indianapolis, before it ultimately went to Conor Daly. I think Briscoe made a good impact with the crew and Sam Schmidt in his substitute role for half the races this past season. I’m thinking it would be very tempting for Sam Schmidt to reward Briscoe with a full-time ride in his second car, assuming all sponsorship scenarios are equal. Of course, if James Jakes or some walking stiff with a truckload of sponsorship money shows up on Schmidt’s doorstep – that’ll be another matter.
For the past few seasons, Sam Schmidt has had one driver each season that was a potential race winner or championship contender. From 2012 through 2014, it was Simon Pagenaud leading the way with either Tristan Vautier or Mikhail Aleshin in the obvious role of second banana. This past season, it was James Hinchcliffe in the primary car alongside James Jakes in the supporting cast, until Hinchcliffe’s near-fatal injury. With a one-two punch in Hinchcliffe and Briscoe; Sam Schmidt will have made a tremendous upgrade and could possibly be mentioned in the same breath with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. It all comes down to sponsorship and who brings it.