INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Schmidt Motorsports is laying the foundation that will allow it to pursue its sixth Firestone Indy Lights Series Championship in 2012, and the first brick to be placed in that foundation was the recent signing of Frenchman Tristan Vautier as driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road To Indy Dallara/Firestone car.
The 22-year-old Vautier moves up to the Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2012 after winning the driver title in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear and the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship that comes with it. Vautier has decided to take his scholarship to SSM, which is the most successful team in Indy Lights history.
“First off, I’d like to express how thankful I am to Mazda, INDYCAR and Sam Schmidt for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime,” Vautier said. “It’s an honor to know that I will be representing the Mazda Road to Indy one step below the IZOD IndyCar Series next season and I can’t wait to be in the car. Knowing I will drive for a championship-winning team such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports makes it feel even better, and the guys can be sure I’ll give it my all. Now, I have a lot of work ahead of me and tons of things to learn.”
If the 2011 Star Mazda season is any indication, Vautier will learn fast and fit right in at SSM. Driving for JDC Motorsports, he dominated the 11-race Star Mazda championship by winning four races and finishing in the top-five in each of the other seven races. In addition, he only qualified outside of top-five once, when he started sixth.
“Tristan brings a wealth of experience and success to the team and I’m excited to have him in the No. 77 car,” Schmidt said. “I look forward to working with another of the Mazda Road To Indy scholarship winners. It’s a good program and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Though the Indy Lights car will be a new experience for Vautier, he will be competing in familiar surroundings. His four Star Mazda wins in 2011 – Barber Motorsports Park, Trois-Rivieres, Infineon Raceway and the Baltimore Grand Prix – all came on tracks and events run in conjunction with the IZOD IndyCar Series or the Firestone Indy Lights Series.