Reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier will join Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports at Sebring International Raceway to test the No. 77 Honda-powered car Dec. 13.
Simon Pagenaud, who earned the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, will test Dec. 12 on the Sebring short course and assist Vautier the next day. A dozen drivers are expected to participate in the final testing days of the year.
Team co-owner Sam Schmidt said he's actively pursuing a teammate to Pagenaud for the 19-race 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Rubens Barrichello, who drove for KV Racing Technology this past season, is atop Schmidt's list, but he's also spoken with others.
"It's 50-50 (as to the prospects of a second car)," Schmidt said. “We want to do it as well as we did Simon this year or better, and we want it to be there for all the right reasons so the hard deadline is probably Jan. 1. We don’t have to add a lot of people to do it. We have a good amount of equipment already. We would want that second car to have all the advantages of testing in the preseason. I don’t want to do anything last-minute. I think we proved this season that we could have a successful one-car program if we have to.”
Schmidt said that Vautier is deserving of an IZOD IndyCar Series test. In fact, he said after introducing Star Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth as the team's first driver for the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights schedule that one of the perks of winning the Firestone Indy Lights championship is an IZOD IndyCar Series test.
“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.”
Vautier, 23, of France, said he won't set any performance goals.
“I will go to Sebring without putting any pressure on myself but instead focus on what the IZOD IndyCar Series guys have to teach me and how I can learn efficiently,” said Vautier, who earned the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship as the Firestone Indy Lights champ with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. "My goal is to improve all day long and learn as much as I can."
Vautier was a quick learner in 2012 after earning the Star Mazda title the previous season. He won the first race of the season and easily won the Firestone Indy Lights championship.
“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 the team after they brought me the Lights title this year.”