IndyCar Series hopeful Franck Montagny will make his debut in the US open-wheel category next weekend, after Andretti Green Racing announced that it will field a fifth
car in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway.
Montagny, who contested last season's Champ Car finale in Long Beach before seeing his dream of swapping an F1 test role for a return to racing in the US diverted to the American Le Mans Series, will appear in the cockpit of an Automatic Fire Sprinklers-backed Dallara at the Californian road course, as AGR elevates its Indy Lights sponsor/partner to the front line.
Montagny is already well-known to the Andretti Green operation, having teamed up with a variety of co-drivers to pilot its LMP2-class Acura in 2008, claiming an overall victory at Belle Isle in Detroit and a class win at Laguna Seca. The Frenchman will run the #25 AFS machine alongside AGR's existing four-driver line-up of Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick, amid rumours that he could be a fixture on the squad next season.
With Patrick being linked to a move to Chip Ganassi's eponymous squad in a bid to foster possible NASCAR ambitions, and both Andretti Jr and Kanaan having below-par campaigns, there could be an opportunity for Montagny to make the move for 2010 but, for now, the Frenchman is focusing on his Infineon outing.
"I am certainly looking forward to my IndyCar debut in Sonoma," the 31-year old admitted, "I was able to test one of the team's cars last year and very much enjoyed driving it, and being able to test the track this week will be very helpful for me to learn the circuit and prepare for the race. We have a lot of work to do to get ready, but I believe we are up to the challenge."
Gary Peterson's AFS concern - one of the USA's largest automatic fire sprinkler contractors - has been a fixture in the Indy Lights series and, once Peterson hung up his helmet, teamed with AGR to give younger talent a chance to run at the front of the field. The squad currently holds down the top two spots in the 2009 standings with JR Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra, with the Colombian due to join AGR at this week's Infineon test as part of the IRL's development scheme. Montagny's involvement, however, marks AFS' first foray into the IndyCar Series.
"This is an exciting announcement for us," Peterson admitted, "California is an important market for our company and we believe Franck will give us a good shot at competing for a win. "In the midst of this economic downturn, it's important for AFS to keep our name out there to attract new customers and the Indy Racing League provides an excellent venue for entertaining current customers. We're proud of our Firestone Indy Lights programme, but this is a great opportunity to be a primary sponsor in the IndyCar Series. It will be exciting to see our traditional red-and-yellow colour scheme out there competing with the best."