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Luca Filippi set for Indy 500 debut

6 March 2012

Luca Filippi has completed his deal to move to the US and compete in the 2012 season of the IZOD IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, alongside new team mate Takuma Sato.

“The IndyCar Series is really popular in Italy and my becoming an Indy car racing driver is a dream come true," said the 2011 GP2 Series runner-up.

But Filippi will have to wait a few more weeks for his US open wheel début, as he'll be sitting out the first four races of the season after team co-owner Bobby Rahal earlier agreed to offer up his second engine to Sarah Fisher's team to allow Sarah Fisher Harman Racing to make the grid in St Petersburg later this month.

Filippi caught Rahal's eye with his performance in last year's GP2 feeder series championship, when a mid-season switch to Scuderia Coloni saw him embark on a string of impressive wins that propelled him into second spot by the end of the year, behind champion Romain Grosjean.

“Having followed GP2 the last several years, I have watched Luca's progress with interest,” said Rahal. “Despite not always having the best equipment, it was clear he had the ability to not only run competitively but to also win races.

While Grosjean's GP2 title success saw him immediately transferred back into F1 such offers were conspicuous by their absence for Filippi, who was also runner-up in the 2011 Auto GP series. That set Filippi's mind to looking across the Atlantic, and the IndyCar Series.

“It's a great feeling to be part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing," said the 26-year-old from Savigliano, Italy. “Being a racing driver and a big motorsport fan too, it's amazing to have such a legend as Bobby Rahal as team owner."

Rahal was equally pleased with formalising the new deal. "Having gotten to know him over the last eight months, he has also shown that in addition to being able to win, he would represent Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in a first class manner," he said. "We are very excited to begin a long and successful relationship with him.”

Filippi will clearly have a lot to learn, and was at recent test sessions at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway watching the teams at work.

"I am looking forward to see how this car is to drive. I know it will be different but when I sat in the cockpit to make the seat I felt really comfortable; everything felt really familiar to me," he said. "I'm sure [Bobby Rahal] will help me a lot with my IndyCar experience and help me learn all the different dynamics that I will find in my very first American open wheel racing season quickly."

Before he's eligible to try qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in May, Filippi will need to undergo the mandatory Rookie Orientation Programme at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It's slightly ironic that Filippi will have to sit out the first four races of the season at St Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beak and Sao Paulo before that, given that his GP2 experience would be ideal preparation for the road course events. Even more so given that the only thing stopping him from making an earlier début is the lack of an engine, since it's Filippi's connections with Honda from his days as test driver for Honda F1 that likely put him in pole position for his IndyCar opportunity.

Filippi also knows his new RLL team mate Takuma Sato from his time in the Grand Prix paddock.

"I know Takuma from those days, Filippi confirmed. "We respect each other and we both think that working together can help us and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing achieve our goals.”

Filippi has high hopes that he's entering IndyCar at just the right time to be able to make a big impression. "This year everything is going to change for everybody in the series because of the new car and I think it is the best moment for a rookie to enter the championship."

Sebastian Saavedra signs Firestone Indy Lights deal

Columbian race star Sebastian Saavedra has signed up to drive the #27 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport Firestone Indy Lights entry in 2012, in a deal that will also give him a chance to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Saavedra made his IndyCar Series début with Bryan Herta Autosport at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 and went on to run a partial IndyCar Series season with Conquest in 2011.

The new deal will also make the 21-year-old the official test and reserve driver for Andretti Autosport, in the event that a replacement driver is needed for their full-time line-up consisting of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe.

"I'm proud to be to be part of the AFS and Andretti Autosport family again," said Saavedra. "The experience I've built in the IndyCar Series and in Firestone Indy Lights over the past three years have given me a confidence and big hunger for success."

"AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport have enjoyed a lot of success together and this effort will hopefully be more of the same," said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. "Sebastian will be a strong contender in the Firestone Indy Lights program. Also, with the new car, having a test driver will help us take our IZOD IndyCar Series program closer to where we want it to be."

"Being appointed as the test and reserve driver for Michael's IndyCar team is something I'm also very excited about," agreed Saavedra. "I want to thank him for that opportunity. I can't wait the season to start!"


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