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EMBURY: Schmidt’s Part-Time Seat Provides Interesting Options

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Following the completion of the final testing window at Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the season-opening Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida later this month, there is a growing sense of interest building regarding part-time and/or Indianapolis 500 rides and who they may fall too.

At this point, the hottest battle for opportunities to join the part-time, Indy-only fleet could very well be for one, if not more opportunities at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. SPM has announced James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin will return for the full tour,but also mentioned entering a third car on a partial basis. The guesses have continued to file in as to who will drive that entry, and perhaps suddenly increased in number with two of the three to be discussed in this edition of Embury’s Outlook having tested for the team at Sebring this past week.

When talk of a potential third entry surfaced this past fall, Schmidt’s then-Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia was believed to be the driver most likely to take the wheel. Urrutia, who placed second on the 2016 Indy Lights points table and had a year earlier earned the Pro Mazda Series championship, seemed primed to end speculation on this situation initially, that is until a couple of factors came up. First, Schmidt shut down his Indy Lights operation and second, the Uruguayan prospect as a free agent signed with Belardi Auto Racing for the 2017 Indy Lights season. While it is still possible that Urrutia could land with Schmidt for the Indy 500, two other candidates seem to now be a better position to get the opportunity.

The first of these candidates may be the best off concerning what he can offer to a team financially. Mexico’s Luis Michael Dorrbecker is known more as a road racing specialist, having scored podium finishes in the final three races of the 2016 BOSS GP Championship in the formula division. He has drawn previous interest from those in the IndyCar paddock, having tested an Indy Lights car in 2012. However, he may hold the biggest support card as he reportedly is receiving backing from businessman Carlos Slim, who is associated with several Mexican-based drivers in the upper levels of auto racing, including Formula One.

The second of the test runners this week at Sebring would provide a very intriguing addition to the IndyCar Series. For those that have followed the recent exploits of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship the amazing talents of 23-year old Brazilian Pipo Derani are well known.

Last year at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Derani was the dominant driver almost single-handedly led ESM Racing to overall victories in both events. Of the two efforts, his performance at Sebring may have been the most impressive as he
completed two breathtaking maneuvers to vault from third to first in the final ten minutes. Although most of his recent activity has
been tied to sports car racing, Derani does have experience in European Formula Three and the Pro Mazda Championship.

While no deals or offers have been made at this time involving the Indy 500 at the time Popular Speed went to press, it appears that Urrutia’s chances are extremely limited, unless Schmidt enters four cars at the Brickyard to ensure the event features a full, 33-car grid. If the team only offers one additional seat, the odds favor the two test drivers. If money is tight, Dorrbecker becomes the front runner. If talent is the last domino to fall, Derani would provide an interesting X-factor in the battle for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors, when matched against full circuit newcomer Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing.

Regardless of the outcome, expect Schmidt to once again be a key player during the month of May for the second year in a row.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad. A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory. Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.