Jean Alesi has announced that he intends to compete in the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 next May, after signing up to spearhead the Group Lotus challenge at the Brickyard in 2012.
Alesi - who competed in F1 from 1989 until 2001 for teams including Tyrell, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan but who is best known for his five year stint with Ferrari - said that he was excited to be given the opportunity to take to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May, and that he is very serious about the challenge.
"I'm thrilled that Lotus has given me the opportunity to compete in such a world famous race," he said. "It's going to be a very special experience for me but I also know that I have a lot of hard work ahead.
"I'm very focused on the task I'm facing – I'm taking my training very seriously, I have some amazing support on this front from a 'comeback' expert and of course I will be testing extensively. I'm really excited about the race."
The 47-year-old French-Sicilian Alesi signed up as a brand ambassador, development consultant and test driver on the current Group Lotus F1 customer race car for Renault GP at the start of 2011, having carved out a successful race career in the DTM series since he left F1 racing a decade ago. He has recently been competing in the Le Mans Series, but the prospect of oval racing will present a whole new challenge for him.
Group Lotus is making the high-profile Indy 500 bid in order to help promote their new IndyCar engine, which is competing with Honda and Chevrolet to sign up client teams for when the series opens up the supply of new-specification 2.2l twin turbo V6 engines to competing manufacturers next season.
So far, both Honda and Chevrolet have announced deals with leading teams, but no one has yet opted for a Lotus power plant to date - which makes Alesi's Indy 500 challenge the perfect way of demonstrating their belief and confidence in the performance of the engine to drum up business, and of upping promotion and awareness of the Lotus offering to prospective customers.
It's not known which team will be supporting Alesi's entry - and it's probably dependant on who signs up for Lotus engines in the intervening time.
"IndyCar racing represents a really important element of our overall motorsport program," Group Lotus Director of Corporate Operations Gino Rosato. "The Indy 500 is the highlight of the race calendar, the atmosphere is always incredible and having Jean racing for us there will make it extra special."
The Indianapolis 500 will be held on Sunday, May 27, 2012, but prior to that all cars and drivers will need to qualify to make it onto the 33-car grid. Alesi's first challenge will be to ensure that he doesn't miss out on getting through Pole Day and Bump Day and actually lines up to take the chequered flag.
If he does end up taking the start, Alesi will be following in the footsteps of Indy 500 champions that features a roll call of F1 legends including Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Mario Andretti. Jacques Villeneuve won here in 1995 to make the switch to F1 possible the following year, and Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2000 before moving to Grand Prix racing. Britain's Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti are both two-time champions.