British driver Dillon Battistini has finally been handed his IZOD IndyCar Series début, three years after he made waves in the Firestone Indy Lights series in 2008 with four wins in his rookie season.
It's been a long and frustrating wait for the 33-year-old former Asian Formula 3 champion, and he's been without a regular drive since that 2008 high point. Small wonder that he's thrilled that the waiting had finally paid off.
"Since I stopped racing Indy Lights regularly I've managed to put together the odd one-off race in a Lights car. But I've done my best to stay in close contact with all the IndyCar teams this whole time and just been working at raising a budget," he said, stressing that as hard and long a slog as it's been, he never considered giving up. "I've come so far and now that I'm close I have to follow through. I can't turn back now, and it means a lot to me obviously or I wouldn't have been out there to keep going over the last three years."
Making his début on the 1.5 mile Kentucky Speedway is ideal for Battistini, as it was the scene of the last of his four Indy Lights victories in that memorable season which also included wins at Homestead-Miami, Indianapolis and Iowa.
"I've had a lot of good experiences at Kentucky, I won my fourth race there in the Firestone Indy Lights series and I also had a chance to test an IndyCar there [with Panther Racing] a couple of years ago and was right on the pace," he said last week. "So I'm definitely looking forward to applying that knowledge which will make the learning curve a lot easier."
Despite his oval experience in Indy Lights, Battistini still needed to pass his IndyCar rookie oval tests before he was allowed to be considered for an actual race seat. He was scheduled to do that last Friday when he joined a dozen IndyCar Series drivers at Kentucky for an eight hour test session, but the weather threatened his best laid plans and at one point it was doubtful whether there would be any running at all. Fortunately the conditions improved, the track dried - and Battistini got to run the requisite test laps and passed without problems.
Even so, confirmation that Battistini will take the #34 car usually helmed by Sebastian Saavedra out this weekend didn't come until a week later. And the race seat comes with one firm, solid piece of advice from Conquest Racing team owner Eric Bachelart: "Don't try to impress in one shot."
“It's sound advice," agreed Battistini. "But at the same time I don't know how many opportunities I'll get to impress in an IndyCar because I'm not the sort of driver that can run off and get my family to pay to do another race if this goes badly."
But having seen the Englishman on the oval last week, Bachelart is confident in Battistini's capabilities to get up to speed quickly - despite the less-than-ideal timing of the opportunity.