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Firestone Indy Lights: Auto Club Speedway Foundation 100

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Auto Club Speedway Foundation 100

Firestone Indy Lights: Auto Club Speedway Foundation 100

Sam Schmidt
Tristan Vautier
September 15, 2012


FONTANA, CALIFORNIA

THE MODERATOR:  We're pleased to be joined by our 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Tristan Vautier.  Tristan's stats this season include five poles, four wins, seven podium finishes, 315 laps led, and he also won the Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year title.  Tristan is coming off of consecutive championship winning seasons, having won the 2011 Star Mazda Championship last year in 2011, and was the recipient of the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship to graduate to Firestone Indy Lights as he will be awarded this year to move up into the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013. 
Tristan, congratulations.  Talk about how much this championship means to you.
TRISTAN VAUTIER:  Thank you.  It means a lot, definitely.  Especially after having won the Star Mazda Championship last year.  I'm very happy.  It was a hell of a season.  It was hard work out there.  It was not the kind of season where you take the lead at the start of the year and then manage it.  
We had a few bumps on the road, especially a DNF in Toronto that hurt us big time in the points.  So from then we had to keep our heads on and make sure we were winning enough races to take the lead back.  We managed to do it winning Trois‑Rivieres and in Baltimore, and we arrived here with very little margin.  But it allowed us to be able to manage this race. 
It was a tough day today.  Very hard to manage tire degradation.  I struggled with my front tires at the end of the race, and from then I saw that Esteban was going to struggle to win the race so I just had to manage fourth position, and I decided to try to drive smart and do what I needed to win the championship, but not be too greedy and throw it away by a silly mistake.  So I really tried to keep cool, and it worked. 
I'm very thankful to my team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports.  They did a heck of a job all year.  Always gave me a great car, but they were as well very good at teaching me to get up to speed with this car, and I cannot be thankful enough to them, but also to Mazda and their involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, because I would not have been in this seat this season without the scholarship I got from Star Mazda.  So a big thanks to them. 
It's really a great ladder system, and I came over to the USA for that, and here I am.  I hope I can make the next step, but it's already been great three years in the USA.  I'm glad I came over.  Hopefully next year we'll be able to make the other step.  It's going to be a tough one, but we're going to work hard to try to make it happen.

Q.  How challenging was the heat today? 
TRISTAN VAUTIER:  It was all right, actually.  In the car running at these speeds there was actually quite a lot of air in the car.  The air was not too humid as well, which was making it easier for breathing compared to races like Toronto or Trois‑Rivieres, even Baltimore.  So I was expecting it to be harder.  It was okay, actually. 
It was making it hard to manage the car though because, obviously, with the heat the cars were creating less downforce and the tires were sliding more.  So even though Firestone gives us amazing tires, at the end of the race it was trickier and that was due to the heat.  So I would say that is the biggest influence that the heat had today in the race.

Q.  Talk about the pressure of being on a one‑year scholarship knowing that if you don't win the championship to move up, you've got to go to plan B? 
TRISTAN VAUTIER:  Obviously, it was a lot of pressure.  If it's a scholarship or something.  I think if it's a scholarship or something else in Motorsports, you always have to win.  And yeah, if not, you have to find a plan B.  It's pretty tough sometimes. 
But I had a lot of pressure, but I've always had pressure throughout my career.  I've never had the biggest budgets behind me, so I've always had to score results to make sure I would move up the ladder, so I knew this pressure. 
I think Star Mazda was a lot of pressure last year as well, and it was a good experience to be able to handle it this year also. 
It was tough, but I was used to it.  And in Motorsports, you always have pressure even if you're at a higher level.  As soon as you don't perform, it's hard to stay in the industry.  So you've always got to shine, and I knew it.  So it was okay to handle. 
THE MODERATOR:  Tristan, when you won the Star Mazda Championship and kind of had a little bit of a selection moving into Firestone Indy Lights of what team you wanted to go to, obviously you picked a very strong team.  Talk about how thankful you are to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and what they've done to your career so far. 
TRISTAN VAUTIER:  First of all, I chose Sam Schmidt Motorsports based on their past in the series.  They've had great records, and there are other very strong teams, and all the teams at this level are very good.  But Sam Schmidt was kind of a no‑brainer.  We knew that going there you could not have any regrets if things were not working out.  I knew as well that if I was doing the job, things would work out. 
So it was not a very tough decision.  You know, Sam has been great to me and made me great offers for this year, and they've just been good.  They have taught me a lot this year of being part of such an organization with the IndyCar team.  It's great as well to learn because Sam always makes sure that we can get maximum information from the IndyCar team and learn as much as we can. 
It's been good.  I feel like between the start of the season in January, and I know I've learned so much thanks to that great organization, that I'm really glad I made that choice. 
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We're also pleased to be joined by Firestone Indy Lights Championship winning team owner, Sam Schmidt.  This is Sam's sixth Firestone Indy Lights title and third consecutive title.  Drivers that have won the title for Sam include Josef Newgarden, J.K. Vernay, Thiago Medeiros, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd and now Tristan Vautier Sam's drivers have amassed 53 wins with 55 poles. 
Sam, talk about another wonderful championship winning season, and wrapping up here with Tristan Vautier. 
SAM SCHMIDT:  I'm not really sure where to start.  But this story started exactly one year ago when Tristan came to me and said, look, I have not been able to raise a lot of money for Indy Lights, and I need you to give me your advice as to whether I should do Indy Lights or Star Mazda.  And I said unequivocally same thing you tell a 14‑year‑old go‑karter or Tristan in that situation ‑ Race where you can win.  Race where you can dominate.  And with the laws of the Road to Indy Scholarship, it was a pretty easy decision for him to go back to Mazda and compete there for the championship.  Then it's a no‑brainer to step up with the scholarship. 
I knew then it would happen just like this.  That you would have no problem winning.  Just kidding.  But we had all the confidence in the world, especially after we tested Tristan. 
But the reality is we have a lot of good guys, a lot of good drivers.  He definitely beat one of the best in this championship with Esteban Guerrieri and all of his experience in Europe. 
I also want to give a huge thank you to Chris Griffis, even though he's no longer here with us.  This time last year we won the championship, but Chris had just passed away a month earlier, and his footprint was all over us.  Now he's been gone for a year, and his footprint is still all over us.  We have a phenomenal group of people on the Indy Lights team that he hand selected over the years, and I think that's really the tribute to a pure rookie being able to come here and win the championship as well as all four cars finishing in the top six or seven in points. 
I'm obviously not doing it.  But we have a knack for attracting really good talent and Tristan's just an example of that.  So thanks to him, a fantastic job the last half of the season, especially, in a dog fight.  It was certainly nice for me to come out here today and not have to worry about the championship.  Just worry about settling it.  So it's all good.

Q.  Sam, if you could address just the tremendous success you've had in the Indy Lights series and also the outstanding season you've had in IndyCar?  You've been a great evaluator of talent.  Just talk a little bit about how well the things are going for the whole overall program? 
SAM SCHMIDT:  Well, it's been almost like a dream.  We had to make a lot of changes this time last year which nobody ever saw which meant bringing the entire IndyCar program and an additional 22 employees into the same building as an Indy Lights program.  That took a lot of patience on a lot of people's parts. 
Rob Edwards has subsequently done a great job making sure that nobody would kill each other, and it's actually worked out really good from a lot of reasons.  Not only the obvious, the economy to scale, but from the testing, engineering and developing standpoint.  The guys that build the gear boxes on the Lights team are talking to the guys that build the gear box on the IndyCar team, and several other layers of complimentary situations there. 
I was really apprehensive having two Frenchmen in the same building, but we muddled through the two Frenchmen, so they didn't kill each other, so it's all good.  I might have to take up French after this, because if he signed with a long‑term contract and everything else.

Q.  Tristan and Sam, at what point during the season did you notice, okay, seeing how Tristan is developing and seeing how he's growing and like I said, flourishing to be this year's champion, at what point would you say that you noticed, okay, this is the guy that's going to go out there and win it? 
SAM SCHMIDT:  Well, when you go to the first few races and qualify where he qualified, and every time he had the pole, he dominated.  So right out of the box I really did think there would be a little bit of a learning curve, and we really hit stride in the second half of the season. 
But he's extremely focused both in and out of the car, a very hard worker, and clearly the work paid off.

Q.  During your growth and transition within this year, especially growing in the series, and looking forward to the next step, at what point did you say, okay, this is really going to happen and you're actually going to go and transition through it? 
TRISTAN VAUTIER:  Well, first part of the season from the start I didn't really focus on whether I was going to be able to win or not.  I knew that I was going to fight against very experienced guys, such as Esteban, Sebastien, and Gustavo Yacaman.  And I knew that from there it was going to be very important to learn fast.  So I really tried to work hard out of the car and in the car during pre‑season testing to understand the way everything was working with Indy Lights.  I had a great team around me to teach me about that. 
Yeah, it was like going to school.  I was learning, learning.  From the point where I won the first race in St. Petersburg, I knew that I would have the potential to do it, but I was still not focusing on the championship or races.  Just trying to put my head down and work hard. 
When I came back in the hunt after Trois‑Rivieres, I really started to think, okay, you're going to have to do it now.  You're going to have to.  It might happen.  But I guess all year when I've been in the car I've put that on the side and really focused on the moment and what I had to do right here, right now to make it happen.  So, yes, I just didn't think about it too much except in the second half of this race. 
THE MODERATOR:  Congratulations on another wonderful season. 

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