The planned Indy 500 collaboration between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and ex-Formula 1 entrant Didier Calmels to field former Champ Car driver Tristan Gommendy could be in jeopardy.
Rumblings out of France regarding a possible hitch in the relationship have surfaced, and at least from his end, SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt joked “I plead the Fifth” when reached by RACER.
Calmels, who served time in prison for murdering his wife, announced the all-French program earlier this year in partnership with SPM where Gommendy would embark on a testing program in the No. 77 Honda (driven this year at Indy by Jay Howard, pictured) prior to tackling Rookie Orientation at Indianapolis. As part of the deal, French television and other media outlets were also expected to cover the No. 77 entry throughout the month of May.
Although the reasons behind the possible split are unclear, the wave of negative press that followed the September announcement could have some influence on the matter.
With headlines ranging from “Partnering With a Murderer Proves Racing Teams Will Take Money from Anyone” to “Man who murdered his wife to co-own 2018 Indianapolis 500 entry” painting a less than complimentary picture of the association between SPM, its partners, and Calmels, the door to a strong seat alongside James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens for the 500 could open.
“There might be a very competitive third Schmidt Peterson Honda available for Indy,” Schmidt acknowledged.
On a related note, a few drivers have expressed interest in piloting a third SPM entry at select rounds outside of Indy. Schmidt says it’s not an option he and co-owner Ric Peterson are ready to consider.
“We’re putting all our emphasis on making ourselves a better team to have better results with what we already have,” he added. “We shut our [Indy] Lights team down to focus on our two Indy cars, ARROW Electronics has stepped up even more to help in every way, and we have made a lot of personnel moves you’ll read about to become better. So until we prove we can meet all those objectives with the two [cars] we have, trying to run a third wouldn’t make any sense. We need to get James and Robert up to the front before we worry about anything else.”
Schmidt also confirmed SPM’s interest in expanding into IMSA’s Prototype class, where the manufacturer-rich DPis and privateer P2s are on the rise, is subject to the same IndyCar-first ethos.
“Same thing there,” he continued. “There’s a lot of interesting things going on [in IMSA], but it would be a distraction that we can’t afford right now. Like I said, the only thing that matters to me is improving our IndyCar program.”