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Indy Lights - Vautier Signs With Sam Schmidt Motorsports

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Indianapolis, Nov. 27, 2011: Just two months after winning the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear title, Tristan Vautier has already aligned himself with a championship-caliber Firestone Indy Lights team.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which has won four of the last six Firestone Indy Lights titles, including the 2011 championship with Josef Newgarden, announced Nov. 18 that it has signed Vautier for the 2012 season.

Vautier received a Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to advance to Firestone Indy Lights after he won the Star Mazda Championship this past season. The Mazda Road to Indy Program, in its third year of existence, aims to help talented young drivers advance their careers and ultimately move to the top level of open-wheel racing—the IZOD IndyCar Series.

"When Mazda established our ladder program in 2007, we had drivers exactly like Tristan in our minds—drivers that can get the job done in the car and out of the car," said John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports. "We are so proud to be associated with the IZOD IndyCar Series on the Mazda Road to Indy and Tristan will be a terrific representative in 2012.

"Sam Schmidt Motorsports was the champion's choice again for this coming season, and after such a successful campaign with Conor Daly in 2011, it appears Tristan will be in good hands for a run at the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Championship."

In the two years that the scholarship has been awarded, both Star Mazda champions have chosen to compete with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The fact that the team has produced the five series champions since 2004 makes it a popular choice for drivers looking to emulate that success.

"Tristan brings a wealth of experience and success to the team, and I'm excited to have him in the No. 77 car," said Sam Schmidt Motorsports owner Sam Schmidt, whose team scored wins with four different drivers in 2011. "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."

Vautier spent two seasons in the Star Mazda Championship. In 2010, he won two races, finished on podium three times, had five top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and finished fifth in the championship. This past season, he had four wins and six podiums with JDC Motorsports and never finished outside the top five.

"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."

Learning is something that Vautier has stressed as very important to him leading up to his first season in Firestone Indy Lights. He recently proved his potential in the larger, more powerful car in an open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late October.

When deciding which team to go to for the 2012 season, Vautier said that Sam Schmidt Motorsport's success in Indy Lights was not the only thing that attracted him to the team. He looked ahead to the future and what he hopes to one day accomplish in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

"Sam Schmidt Motorsports has a successful IZOD IndyCar Series structure, which makes me hope to be able to develop something on the longer term if I get strong results and do a good job out of the car," he said.

Now that he has signed with a team, Vautier looks forward to focusing on other aspects of preparing for 2012. On his agenda is learning more about the car and building up his endurance for Firestone Indy Lights races, which are longer than races in Star Mazda. He can also take a second to realize how quickly his career has developed in such a short period of time.

"These two months went by really fast, and this strong ladder system makes things move very quickly for the championship winners," he said. "It's only November, and I'm already signed at the next level."