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There were times this year when it seemed as is if Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ big-rigs must have run over the black cats that crossed their path. But at the end of it all, Sam Schmidt tells David Malsher that the team is in a better place now to make the next step toward vying for championships.
When Graham Rahal missed his braking point on Lap 1, Turn 1 at Portland International Raceway, there was one team that lost both its cars in the subsequent melee, and you wouldn’t need to be a fortune-teller to guess that team would be Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Nor was it a surprise that such an accident occurred on a weekend where the team had high hopes.
James Hinchcliffe had been quick at PIR the year before and he was quick again in 2019’s penultimate race weekend – in fact, he felt he should really have been in the Firestone Fast Six rather than eighth. Meanwhile, temporary teammate and permanent friend Conor Daly, subbing for Marcus Ericsson who had been called on duty for the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team, had whittled away at his pace deficit to Hinch until he qualified just one place and two-hundredths of a second behind the Canadian star. Yet within seconds of the green flag, Arrow SPM’s handsome gold-and-black cars sat broken and still, awaiting rescue.
Throwing salt in the wound, partner team Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM lost its sole entry just two laps after the restart when Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay tried an impossible move on Jack Harvey at the first chicane smacking him into a spin.
Conor Daly, subbing for Marcus Ericsson at Portland while the Swede was on F1 duty.
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Last weekend, when the NTT IndyCar Series visited WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the season finale, Arrow SPM shone again, with Hinchcliffe grabbing fifth on the grid ahead of two Penskes and three Andretti Autosport cars. Come the race however, he was one of a handful of drivers who found themselves suffering a suspected pinched nerve in their neck, possibly due to the strange compressions on the undulating track. He thus required a long pitstop to allow the #5 crew to jam more padding into the cockpit to support his helmet.
It was at that point that Ericsson arose to take up the fight for Arrow SPM, and he was running a legitimate sixth – ahead of championship contenders Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden – when in his final stop, he got delayed by other drivers causing a fracas on pitlane. The crucial time lost there dropped him to 11th.
And so the season finale was another day where team members could only shake their heads and wonder at the wretched injustice that is an inherent and permanent threat in motorsport. Certainly anyone asserting the tired old cliché that “you make your own luck” should prepare themselves for a rude retort from anyone at Arrow SPM. After all, in the span of four races, three times Hinchcliffe was taken out on Lap 1 through no fault of his own. Incredibly, on two of those occasions his teammate was also an innocent victim in the same incident.
Team co-owner Sam Schmidt is a realist, and when Motorsport.com remarks on the strange amount of misfortune that struck Arrow SPM this season, and how the team members deal with it, he replies: “To be honest we just have to keep believing in ourselves – that if we do the things within our control properly, eventually the things we can’t control will align for us.
Marcus Ericsson listens to team co-owner Sam Schmidt.
Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / LAT Images
“You can drive yourself crazy wondering about ‘if’ and ‘but’. Luckily the team have been great at turning the page quickly and have gotten on with the job.”
Just as well. Most painful of all was the second Detroit race, in which Hinchcliffe appeared to be on the right strategy and had the pace to win. Then Newgarden had a moment of brain-fade while trying to pass Hinchcliffe and slid into a tire wall. As James tried to steer around him, he was struck by Rossi who was spinning trying to avoid the accident.
“That very much felt like it was going to be our day,” reflects Schmidt. “James executed a perfect race, our pitstops were spot on and so was the strategy. That one still stings, but at least it showed we had the pace to go for the win.”
On that occasion, there was an additional consolation – Ericsson drove a stirring race that saw him finish second to Scott Dixon and ahead of Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi. A couple of races later, Hinchcliffe would score the team’s second podium of the season with a strong drive to third at Iowa Speedway.
Schmidt says those two top-three finishes were the highlights of the season, but admits the way Arrow SPM responded to Hinchcliffe’s shunt in Indy 500 practice was also gratifying. The efforts of the #5 and #7 crew – along with those of Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM – ensured James’ car was easily fast enough to get onto the grid come Bump Day.
Hinchcliffe at the top of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca's famous Corkscrew.
Photo by: Phillip Abbott / LAT Images
“We aim to contend for race wins and podiums every single weekend, so Detroit and Iowa podiums definitely mean the most,” says Schmidt. “With that said, it gave me great joy to see how the team came together during Indy 500 qualifying. It shows that we have a high quality group of people and that definitely gives me a sense of pride in how far we’ve come as a team.”
Another indicator of that team spirit was the slick pit work that became the norm for Arrow SPM in 2019, and which attracted compliments from members of rival squads. It made the #7 crew’s triumph in the Indianapolis 500 Pit Stop Competition far less of a surprise than it might have been in previous years.
“Over the course of last off-season, one of our key points of focus were pit stops,” agrees Schmidt. “We realized it was an area in which we were lacking and this year has been fantastic.
“And it hasn’t just been the pit stops, but strategy as well. More often than not, we moved our way forward with stops and strategy. The team practices multiple times per week and we debrief our pit stop practices just like we debrief an on-track session. It’s all very methodical and I’m thankful for the crews’ dedication to never stop tweaking in this department.”
Something that had defined the 2018 season from Arrow SPM’s point of view was the chemistry between Hinchcliffe and then-teammate Robert Wickens, who had been friends since their early teens. Each listened hard to the other, learned from the other, and their requirements from their respective cars’ handling was remarkably similar, despite differing driving styles. Around 99 percent of the time, something that quickened Wickens would hasten Hinch and vice versa.
Hinchcliffe and Ericsson had good chemistry throughout the 2019 season.
Photo by: Gregg Feistman / LAT Images
While Robert continues to recover from his shunt at Pocono last year, he remained an integral part of the Arrow SPM team throughout 2019, available as advisor for James and rookie Marcus, and mediator between them and the engineers. Ericsson, who shone on the ovals despite his lack of familiarity with left-hand-turn-only tracks prior to this season, several times cited Wickens as a big help in the transition. The fact that all three drivers got along well was a bonus.
“Frankly I don’t think their chemistry could have been better,” states Schmidt. “From the first race to the last, they got on very well and both have similar driving attributes. They both have a pretty smooth driving style so what they require out of the car is actually very similar.
“It’s been great having Robert with us. He comes in with a different point of view and challenged James and Marcus a lot as well.”
Prior to the season, Schmidt and partner Ric Peterson were determined that their team should turn IndyCar’s Big Three teams – Penske, Ganassi, Andretti – into a Big Four. Neither of them would pretend that ambition was achieved in just one year – how could it be? But there were important steps made in the way the team operates on race weekends and back at the race shop.
“It almost feels like we’re part of “The Three Chasers” group at the moment,” Schmidt muses. “It’s all very close between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and us. But I think we’re getting closer to making it a ‘Big Four’ every day.
“On track and off track, we’re in a better position now than ever before to make that leap to consistently challenge for wins and championships.”
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Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars of James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens and Marcus Ericsson.
Photo by: Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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