Sam Schmidt, who has helped pioneer the development of ARROW semi-autonomous car, will race head-to-head against Mario Andretti in a second semi-autnomous car on the 2.43-mile permanent road course prior to the start of the May 13 Indianapolis Grand Prix. It marks the first time two semi-autonomous cars have raced head-to-head.
The race will benefit Conquer Paralysis Now, a nonprofit organization and leading authority on spinal cord injury and research founded by Schmidt.
“[ARROW] is very special on so many levels, and so much more positive benefits have come from this program than I think any of us ever anticipated,” Schmidt said. “I never had the opportunity to race against Mario back in my driving career … so that’s just a huge honor.”
Schmidt, who has been a quadriplegic since a testing accident in 2000, made his maiden trip around IMS in a semi-autonomous car at around 107mph, then went out in 2016 and hit 152mph on qualifying day.
“The car is so intuitive now, and nothing’s more representative of just how comfortable is the car is to drive now, how much it has evolved, than when we took it up Pikes Peak last year,” he said. “No walls, 3,000-foot drops and we didn’t even go there to compete and we’d beat 20 of the cars that entered the race.”
Andretti said the the opportunity “could be the ultimate challenge.”
“There’s always a challenge ahead in our sport, and this is certainly a different one, certainly for me, and it’s so awesome to see how everything has progressed since the very beginning that he started driving. And everybody was so interested in seeing that develop, and now, he’s saying, ‘piece of cake’ (Schmidt winked). … It’s a challenge that we all welcome. Today nothing is impossible anymore. And in motor racing we try to maintain that attitude, and as Doug said, what better place to showcase new technology than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I appreciate very much being invited.”
IMS President Doug Boles said that it was only natural that the speedway play a role.
“[Indianapolis Motor Speedway] was created in 1909 really to test new technologies; the automotive industry was just a brand-new industry at the time,” Boles said. “I think Carl Fisher and the team that started the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be thrilled that 108 years later we continue to test technology, especially technology related to the automobile and the speedway.”
“This is a pretty cool moment for us to kick the Indy Grand Prix off.”
The ground rules aren’t yet known – and the two joked that Andretti might not get any practice time.
“I’m nervous,” Andretti said, before Schmidt interrupted: “He’s already sandbagging.”
“It’s going to be interesting because it’s on a road course,” Andretti said, “so there’s a lot more work to do, more braking, so hopefully that’ll work in my favor, but I’m not counting chickens yet. This dude and I are going to have it out, big time, and I’m sure I’m going to have him buy the beer that night.”
The competitive juices between the two were evident in friendly banter, with Andretti asking Schmidt if a win would mean a ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the Indy 500.
“If you beat me, 2018, you get a ride in the Indy 500 to go kick [son Michael Andretti’] ass,” Schmidt joked.