Sam Schmidt will turn to Jay Howard, a two-time Formula Ford champion, to drive for him in the Indy Racing League Indy Pro Series.
Howard, a 25-year-old from Basildon, England, will drive the No. 7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry beginning with the Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26.
"I've been working with Jay pretty closely for about a year and a half," said Schmidt, whose team won the Indy Pro Series championship in 2004. "Toward the end of last season, we helped him get a deal in Formula Mazda to race at Mosport. The results were really good against what I would call stiff competition. He qualified third, and he won the race going away. That was a real indication that he has lots of talent, and with our series going to 50-percent road courses, we will need that type of background to compete for the championship in 2006."
As a former Formula Ford national champion himself, Schmidt knows firsthand how valuable driving those cars can be in developing the talent to move to the next level. In
Howard has groomed himself for this opportunity since he started karting at age 7. After winning seven British karting championships, the driver claimed the United Kingdom Formula Ford Zetec Championship in 2003. Last year, he moved to the United States and won the Cooper Tires Formula Ford Zetec Championship on the strength of nine victories.
"He's new to the series, but he has a lot of experience," said Schmidt, who won the Formula Ford in 1993. "Last year, he broke a lot of records in the [Cooper Tires Formula Ford Zetec Series] that had been set by Dan Wheldon. That's impressive, and obviously his results at the first Open Test reconfirmed everything. We're excited about having him drive for us this year."
Howard led 17 Indy Pro Series drivers in an Open Test on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 6. His past success, testing results and confidence lead him to believe another championship is within reach.
"I believe I have the ability to qualify on pole and win every race I enter," said Howard, who now resides in St. Petersburg, Fla. "This is what I have trained for all of my life and, looking at my accomplishments in other competitive professional series, I won't be pleased with anything short of a championship. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team has gained 19 poles and 11 wins in the past two seasons, so I couldn't be with a better team."
The Indy Pro Series is the premier ladder series for drivers, teams and sponsors striving to compete in the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. The 12-race schedule in 2006 features six races on ovals and six races on road courses, including competing on both circuits at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teams compete for $3 million in prize money in cars that generate 420 horsepower and speeds in excess of 190 mph. The races are telecast to more than 88 million homes in the United States on ESPN2.