Scott Speed has been signed by Dragon Racing for the 2011 centennial Indianapolis 500, to be held on May 29.
If he successfully qualifies for one of the 33 starting grid positions, Speed would become only the third driver to race in all three of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's big events - IndyCar's Indy 500, NASCAR's Brickyard 500, and F1's now defunct United States Grand Prix. Only Juan Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve can lay similar claims.
“It's an honor to be able to partner with Jay Penske [and Dragon Racing] for this year's Indy 500 and my debut in the IndyCar Series,” Speed said. “Having the ability to compete in the Indy 500 is a dream for any racing driver."
Speed will drive the #20 car with sponsorship from Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka, American Racing Wheels and VIZIO, and will also be entered in October's IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas in October, where he would be eligible to win the $5m challenge prize for any non-series regular who can come to the race and snatch a victory from under the noses of the series regulars.
“I am thrilled that Scott chose Dragon Racing and this year's Indy 500 to make his IndyCar début,” said Jay Penske at the announcement. "As one of America's finest open-wheel racers, Scott's past experience in Formula 1 and NASCAR make him a serious contender at this year's Indy 500 and at the IndyCar challenge in Las Vegas."
The former F1 driver raced for Toro Rosso in 28 Grand Prixs in 2006-7 and was the first American in Formula 1 since Michael Andretti 13 years before. After a mediocre season and a half, Speed was subsequently released from his contract mid-year to make way for another graduate of Red Bull's driver development programme - one Sebastian Vettel.
Speed switched to NASCAR and competed in the Sprint Cup series with the Red Bull Racing team from 2008. His best finish with in the series was fifth at Talladega in May 2009, before he was let go at the end of 2010 to make way for Brian Vickers who was returning from a year's medical leave.
The 28-year-old Californian previously competed in British Formula Three, Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, German Formula Renault and GP2 (with iSport in 2005) and represented the United States in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in three rounds in 2005.
Speed will now need to take part in the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IZOD IndyCar Series regulars JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, James Jakes and Charlie Kimball will also take part, along with Ho-Pin Tung and Pippa Mann. Another series rookie, Jay Howard, has already completed rookie oriinetation last year.
The evaluation program consists of turning 10 consistent laps at four speed phases on the 2.5-mile asphalt oval: 200-205mph, 205-210, 210-215 and 215 or more. Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for IndyCar, expects drivers to complete at least three phases during the session.