Two US open-wheel veterans managed to secure late deals to join the field at this weekend's IndyCar Series season-opener on the streets of St Petersburg, with Darren Manning and Alex Tagliani lining up with Dreyer & Reinbold and Conquest Racing respectively.
While Tagliani ended 2008 with Conquest, and was tipped to return to Eric Bachelart's team should backing being found for the coming season, the second D&R seat was only brought into focus when a press call was announced involving key players from the team.
Initially, the rumour mill linked Tomas Scheckter with the seat alongside British rookie Mike Conway, with former team drivers Buddy Rice and Milka Duno being talked about in connection with alternative rides for 2009, so Manning's deal came somewhat out of left field.
“We are excited to be able to put a deal together, even though it is last minute, to run Darren Manning at St Petersburg," team co-owner Dennis Reinbold commented, "He's a really talented driver who will be a great team-mate for Mike and can round out our two-car effort as we continue to build for the 2009 season.”
While Reinbold's comments suggest that Manning's tenure of the seat may be being reviewed on a race-by-race basis, the former AJ Foyt driver will provide valuable experience to aid Conway's path along the learning curve in the #24 Dad's Root Beer machine.
“I'm super excited," Manning, who was previously being linked to a possible road course role with Sarah Fisher's eponymous team for 2009, "It was the Monday before the first race in St Petersburg and I wasn't going - I was organising my plans for the weekend and set my mind that I wasn't going to be driving in the 2009 IndyCar Series. Then, come Tuesday afternoon, I get the call from Dennis to get me in the car, and it has all changed.
"It was a hectic afternoon, but I have been talking to these guys for a long time and saw what they did last year. And, with what they did over the winter, I could see them doing really well.
"With Mike, he's a good guy and I know his background in Europe and he's a fellow Brit, so he will be nice to work with. He's a really quick driver and I think we will work well together. Hopefully, with my experience and speed at St Petersburg, it will help the team take those steps forward.”
Tagliani, meanwhile, was confirmed by Conquest after the team managed to land a partnership agreement with Northlands that will see the Edmonton-based organization and one of its signature events, the Rexall Edmonton Indy, become the primary sponsor of the #34 car at this weekend's Honda Grand Prix.