Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is hopeful of keeping hold of James Hinchcliffe for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, despite interest in the Canadian from other teams on the grid.
Fan-favourite Hinchcliffe looks set to remain with the team for a third consecutive season after joining them at the beginning of the 2015 season after three years with Andretti Autosport, and has taken two race victories and pole position for the Indianapolis 500 in that time.
Co-owner Sam Schmidt admitted the desire to find a strong team-mate for Hinchcliffe had made him and fellow co-owner Ric Peterson from securing the Canadians signature for a further year, but that is now priority.
“We’ve been focused mostly on trying to find a competitive and complementary driver to go with James, and someone who will be a good fit for the team,” said Schmidt to Motorsport.com. “But then I woke up and thought, ‘Actually, first we need to make sure we get James to re-up.’
“But I’m pretty confident that will get done soon, because I think it’s in everyone’s best interests to renew the contract and maintain continuity.
“Our goal has always been to try and have two cars that run consistently up front, and we certainly believe James can be a part of that. But in order to help him reach that level, we need to find another strong driver.”
Whilst Hinchcliffe looks set to stay, the second seat remains vacant, and Schmidt has revealed that twenty-eight drivers of varying experience and with varying backing have been discussed, but he is keen to take advantage of the manufacturer departures from the FIA World Endurance Championship and DTM Series to see which drivers will become free agents.
Schmidt revealed that drivers with the calibre of Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber from Porsche’s WEC squad, as well as Robert Wickens from Mercedes’ DTM outfit, have been discussed, with the team looking for the strongest possible line-up for the 2018 season.
“We had a conference call this week, with a spreadsheet of 28 drivers!” said Schmidt. “The drivers on there have varying degrees of funding between some and none, and between more talent and less talent.
“Pretty much everyone who raced in IndyCar this year and who isn’t already signed was on the spreadsheet, but we’re also looking to Europe and wondering if we should wait to see what happens in the Formula 1 ranks.
“But it’s no secret that we’re interested in all the guys getting pitched out of LMP1 rides and DTM rides this year and next year. In theory some of them have their futures secured.
“Real strong talents like Brendon Hartley, Robert Wickens, Earl Bamber – I think they all have strong cases for trying to make it in IndyCar. I think they could all do a good job.
“So like I say, there are a lot of options out there, and it’s a case of, do we go with the proven guys or go for someone with possibly greater potential but lacking experience at this level? What’s best for our team moving forward?”