Former Ferrari F1 driver Jean Alesi is still in with a chance of competing in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 race in May, IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard insisted this weekend.
Bernard was responding to press reports that Alesi was out of the running for an IndyCar seat for next month's prestigious event, despite the former Ferrari F1 driver announcing last September
that he intended to compete in the world famous event in a Lotus-powered car.
"I'm thrilled that Lotus has given me the opportunity to compete in such a world famous race," the 47-year-old French-Sicilian racer said at the time.
The original PR impact of Alesi running in the Indy 500 had in any case been somewhat blunted in the meantime by another F1 graduate Rubens Barrichello joining the series full-time, and there had been little follow-up on the story since the original announcement. Lotus' much-publicised race against time to get sufficient engines to its teams in time for the start of the 2012 IndyCar season last week at St Petersburg has led many to assume that Alesi's bid to make it onto the Indy 500 grid was low on the list of Lotus' priorities.
This weekend, the Indianapolis Star
revealed that Alesi had been due to race with HVM Racing, the team that currently fields Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro for a full season campaign in the series. The newspaper went on to quote HVM owner Keith Wiggins as saying that the Alesi deal had fallen through.
"There's not enough money to do it," Wiggins was reported as saying.
With Lotus still struggling to produce enough power plants for its regular teams - especially after having three units fail this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park alone in the run-up to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - the question remains whether the engine manufacturer can actually add a sixth car to its roster for the one-off Indy 500 event.
Bernard insisted on Sunday that they can and will, and that Alesi is still a possible contender: "I know that he's been training. He wants to do it," he told a pre-race media gathering at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
He also said that he expected the other two engine suppliers, Honda and Chevrolet, to be able to step up to support 14 cars for the May event on top of Lotus' half dozen, which would make a total of 34 cars potentially competing to be on the 33-car grid.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan (Honda) has already said that they will running a car for GP2 runner-up Luca Fillipi, while Sebastian Saavedra has already been guaranteed a berth with Andretti Autosport (Chevrolet) as part of his development and Firestone Indy Lights deal with the team, which would make 28 entries at Indianapolis.