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By Tim Harms
indycar.com

Schmidt prepares for title defense with three-car effort

February 18, 2005

Sam Schmidt Motorsports will campaign three rookie drivers in an attempt to repeat as Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesT champion.

Americans Chris Festa and Travis Gregg, along with Brazilian Jaime Camara, will carry the Schmidt banner in 2005. Of the three, only Gregg has any race experience in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, making three starts for Schmidt last season.

Gregg, a 26-year-old Ohio native, qualified on the front row at each of his three races and recorded two top-five finishes.

"With the three races last year, learning from driving legends like Rick Mears and testing this winter, I feel we are prepared to win races and the championship," Gregg said. "The team is fantastic, and I feel like we can pick up right where we left off at Texas."
Festa, a 19-year-old freshman at Florida State University, begins his third season racing cars.

"These guys have won the championship, and fortunately I'm in one of their cars, so that makes things a little easier, but I'm going to have to work hard," Festa said. "It's definitely a realistic view for us. If not me, then the other two guys as well. We're going to be working hard, racing hard and hopefully get a little bit of a point lead early in the season."

The final piece of the puzzle is Camara, 24, who competed for two seasons in South American Formula 3, the same series that produced IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves and 2004 Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion Thiago Medeiros.

"The opportunity to race with Sam (Schmidt) and the team this season is fantastic," Camara said. "For me, it will be a year of learning, from oval racing to my first experience living away from home in Brazil, but we have a good structure set up, and I expect to get acclimated quickly in every sense. I look forward to working with the whole team. Everybody wants to win, and I already like the atmosphere there."

With races on 10 ovals and four road/street courses, the team hopes to capitalize on the drivers' diverse backgrounds. Gregg has driven primarily on ovals while Camara and Festa have competed mostly on road courses.

"Since Chris comes from a road-racing background, he can help me at the road races, same as Jaime," Gregg said. "I think we can work together and help each other out. You don't want to give everything away, but I think we can help each other enough."

CAPSULE LOOK AT SAM SCHMIDT MOTORSPORTS

Chassis/engine/tire:
Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone
Owner: Sam Schmidt
Drivers: Jaime Camara (No. 1), Chris Festa (No. 19), Travis Gregg (No. 7)
Team manager: Michael Crawford
Chief mechanics: Chris Griffis (Festa), John Roof Jr. (Gregg), John Worth (Camara)

OWNER VIEWPOINT
Sam Schmidt: "I'm really looking forward to this season. Last year was very motiviating and reenergizing. It was a reminder of why we're doing this in the first place. This year we've made great efforts to make all three of the cars extremely equal in terms of the car and the crews. Each unit is very deep, and all of the drivers are very good. I told the team we need to finish 1-2-3 in the championship. I don't care how or in what order.
"So far in testing all of these guys have gotten along great. They're willing to share information. They're all rookies, and they need each other to succeed."

DRIVER VIEWPOINTS
Jaime Camara: "The team is very professional. They know what they are doing. That's really good, because I come in and say one thing, and they know what to do. That's very different from where I come from, because I was really not on professional teams, and I needed to say to the engineer what to do to the car, and that was hard to do, because I'm not a complete driver yet, I'm getting experience all the time. Sam Schmidt is a really nice team. Tim Neff is the best engineer I've ever worked with, and the crew chief is very good too. I think it will be a very good year. Travis has a lot of experience on ovals. He can help me with data. It's going to be a good year."

Chris Festa: "I think the series is going to be really tough this year. You've got a third-year veteran with Jeff Simmons (Kenn Hardley Racing), and the other two guys in this tent are both really good as well, and you've got some other drivers coming into the series that are pretty talented, so it's going to be a tough year for us, but these guys have won the championship, and fortunately I'm in one of their cars, so that makes things a little easier, but I'm going to have to work hard."

Travis Gregg: "Things are great. We did testing at Homestead and Phoenix, so we got a good basis for the season, and hopefully work toward the championship. I think anytime you're around a race car you can learn something. How the car handles in traffic is one of the biggest things to learn and win races and contend for a championship.
"It's been four years since I've been racing on a road course in a car like this, so I think that might be my biggest challenge this year. The test at Homestead, proved to not be a problem. We were right there on pace with everyone else, so I think we'll be OK."