Just days after it appeared that Jean Alesi's hoped-for bid to enter the 2012 Indianapolis 500 had fallen through, reports have emerged that the 47-year-old French-Sicilian has signed a deal with Newman/Haas Racing to participate in next month's event.
The report initially appeared in an article in French motorsports publication AUTOHebdo
on Wednesday, although no further details were given.
However on Thursday Autosport.com
appeared to confirm the report, quoting Alesi himself as saying that he had signed a deal with Carl Haas' team the previous day. SPEED.com
also said that the news had been confirmed to them by "multiple sources."
The news is a surprise, and not just because of the lack of prepared Lotus engines available heading into next month's event especially after the manufacturer had two units unexpectedly fail last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.
Alesi's hopes of entering the Indy 500 appeared to take a blow earlier this week
after the Indianapolis Star
quoted HVM Racing team owner Keith Wiggins as seemingly ruling out a second car for Alesi with his team alongside regular driver Simona de Silvestro.
"There's not enough money to do it," Wiggins was reported as saying, although IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard had later insisted that Alesi's participation in the Indy 500 was still very much in play.
Newman/Haas Racing's arrival on the scene is also unexpected, after the team pulled out of US open wheel racing at the end of the 2011 season citing difficulties arising from the world financial situation.
"The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time," said team owner and co-founder Carl Haas at the time, seemingly ruling out even a one-off entry into the Indy 500 in 2012 as the team had not bought a new DW12 chassis or have any engine deals in place.
The team's 33 employees working on IndyCar projects were reportedly either loaned out to Dragon Racing or let go at the start of December, with drivers Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe going on to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Andretti Autosport respectively. Last year, Servia qualified on the front row of the grid for the centennial Indy 500 with Newman/Haas.
But Haas' team has been staying in touch with IndyCar by offering behind-the-scenes support to the Lotus Dragon Racing team, which this year is fielding Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge in Lotus-powered cars. Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car championships from 2004 to 2007 with Newman/Haas.
It's unclear where the money for Newman/Haas Racing's deal with Alesi has been found. There is currently no official announcement or confirmation of the reports of Alesi's signing from Newman/Haas Racing itself, and the team's General Manager Brian Lisles was unavailable for comment. Alesi is quoted by Autosport.com
as saying that there were still "a lot of details to decide."
If the deal does finally come together, then Alesi will be required to go through the same Rookie Orientation Program that fellow F1 star Rubens Barrichello will also undertake in the week before the official start of track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The former F1 driver - who competed in just over 200 Grand Prix races in his career - is a Lotus cars brand ambassador. Alesi's own official website continues to show the countdown to the Indy 500 with the message "I look forward to seeing you May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis" that first appeared back in September last year when he made his original announcement of seeking a spot on the Indy 500 grid.