SONOMA, Calif. – Steve Weirich didn’t stray far from the pit stand at Sonoma Raceway during the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test Aug. 21. The activity surrounding the No. 97 Honda-powered car with Lucas Luhr behind the wheel was too captivating and entirely enjoyable.
RW Motorsports – of which Weirich represents the latter -- partnered with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to enter the No. 97 car in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 25. It’s an exploratory weekend for both teams and Luhr, a five-time American Le Mans Series champion who is making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is seeking to add a second car for the 2014 season to complement the No. 67 entry driven by Josef Newgarden. Weirich, a longtime USAC team owner, is investigating expansion into INDYCAR. Luhr, who competes full time for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, also is weighing his long-term future.
“This is the next step in the process for me and it’s an achievement just to be here,” said Weirich, who co-owns Rotondo Weirich Enterprises (a contractor providing precast modular buildings). “The next step is to be as good as we can at it. I’m happy to be with SFHR, Lucas and the people he came over with from the Muscle Milk team are good at what they do and already in synch with each other.”
RW Motorsports’ arrangement dates to the 2012 Indianapolis 500 when Bryan Clauson made his first start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in a Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing-prepared car.
“With my USAC program, Bryan was driving for me at the time,” Weirich said. “Getting to the Indy 500 was a goal of mine and Bryan’s and it worked out and to do it with SFHR, and I just liked working with the team. We talk the same way, we have the same passion and it was waiting to find the right situation to start building up the team together. In a sense, build a two-car team with me being part of that.”
The stars aligned for the Sonoma race weekend with Luhr working into the program on an ALMS off week and Pickett Racing principal Greg Pickett (father-in-law of 1996 Indy Racing League co-champion Scott Sharp) also seeking to explore if the series is a good fit for 2014 or beyond.
“For my business, a lot of our current and future opportunities are West Coast based. That was a great reason to come here,” Weirich added. “I always wanted it to be something more than an Indy 500 program, and it was a question of wanting to do it as right as you can. Through racing and other forms of business, you learn rushing is not always the best way to do it.
“I would love to see it grow into a full INDYCAR program, but that’s still a work in progress.”
Fisher, who established the team in 2008 and has built it – with the assistance of co-owner Wink Hartman – into a full-season program with Newgarden. A second driver/car has been a priority “since day one,” Fisher said.
“It absolutely has to be the right program,” Fisher said. “For us, (Sonoma) is one more of those weekends to explore what is it going to take. What do we need when we align it and make it happen? It’s really an exploratory venture for us as well as satisfying what we need to do for Steve Weirich and RW Motorsports. Certainly having two cars is very valuable, especially with the changing metrics, changing tires, changing things that are ever evolving in our sport.
“Towards the future, we have to be a multi-car team and we have to have a feeder series to bring drivers in, to bring crew members in and bring engineers in and develop them to be where we want to be. We’re very lucky. We’ve been able to hand-pick the individuals that we have and they fit in automatically. They weren’t part of a system growing into the job they have right now.
“I’d like to see that support series come into the shop. We’ve built a shop that can support that long term. That’s where we’ve got to go. We just need to make the budget to make it happen.”