Veteran US open wheel racer Oriol Servia has completed a last-minute deal putting him in an IndyCar seat for the 2011 season.
He will race for Newman/Haas Racing, having seen off James Hinchcliffe's rival efforts to claim the race seat. At last week's pre-season testing at Barber Motor Speedway, Servia finished with the fifth best time overall behind the three Penske drivers and Scott Dixon, while Hinchcliffe was close behind in seventh position overall - but the difference meant that Seria successfully claimed the #02 car for the year.
"I honestly believe the test couldn't have gone better," said Servia in the team press release ahead of this weekend's season opener at St Petersburg. "I found the whole Newman/Haas team exactly how I left it: willing to do whatever it takes to let the driver do what he does best and get to the front. With one difference though - and that is that the whole team is hungrier than ever and everybody is working like it was their first race, only with 28 years of experience."
Servia last raced for the team in 2009 for four appearances toward the end of the year. He has competed in Indy Lights (winning the title in 1999) and moved to Champ Car the following year, in which his best season was 2005 when he came second in the championship with Dale Coyne Racing and Newman/Haas. His best season in IndyCar was in 2008 with KV Racing, which was the only year he had a full season of starts and ended up ninth in the championship.
"I am energized, focused and better prepared than ever," he said, brushing off concerns that his late signing may lead to a lack of preparedness for the start of the season. "I have watched last year's race and read the famous NHR preparation report for St. Pete a few times. We are ready.
"I expect us to be competitive from the get go in St. Pete. No excuses of being rusty after a year off or anything. I feel ready and the team has a great track record in St Pete and all street races in general. I expect us to shine."
The team says that Hinchcliffe will be part of the organisation, but as yet has no car to drive unless and until sponsorship can be found for him. Until then, Servia will be the team's only entry into the 2011 IndyCar series.
Spanish driver Servia will be wearing a specially designed helmet for this weekend's run, in honour of his compatriot, artist Salvador Dali - the Dali Museum in Florida is in the area of the city encircled by the St Petersburg road course. "I will be wearing my Dali helmet and with the new Dali museum just reopening, I feel I have a special connection with the event," he said. "It is the biggest Dali museum outside of Spain and I am really looking forward to going there on Thursday afternoon."