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Jourdain confirmed for Indy 500 bid
24 April 2012
Former Champ Car veteran racer Michel Jourdain Jr. is to return to US open wheel racing for the first time since 2004 with a one-off deal for this year's Indianapolis 500, Rahal Letterman Lanigan confirmed on Tuesday.
"I am pleased to have Michel back with the team," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “When we were last together we had a lot of success and I don't see any reason why we can't continue that."
The Mexican driver had a nine-year CART/Champ Car World Series career with teams including Team Rahal, Payton/Coyne Racing and RuSport before he headed off to race more recently in WTCC, A1GP and WRC, as well in NASCAR in both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series.
“I am extremely happy about this new opportunity,” said Jourdain. "I know it is a huge challenge to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after so long and with this type of cars, but I hope that I will feel at home in a few days.”
In fact, despite his considerable prior experience in Champ Car which consists of 152 race starts, Jourdain has only ever competed once before in the Indianapolis 500 itself - way back in 1996. That's because of the rift that was raging at the time between CART and the Indy Racing League that held the rights to stage the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsport.
As a result, while Jourdain is not listed as a rookie for this year's Indy 500, he will be asked to participate in a "refresher" course on May 10 that will run alongside the official Rookie Orientation Program. He will drive the #30 car powered by Honda and sponsored by Office Depot Mexico, with associate sponsorship from Roshfrans, Grupo Indi and Grupo Multi.
“I am extremely happy about this new opportunity,” said the 35-year-old, who has been at the two street course races held so far in 2012 at St Petersburg and Long Beach and getting to know the scene again, as well as reuniting with some old and familiar faces up and down pit lane.
"I walked in the paddock and saw all my friends," he said. "I felt like I had been away just for a few months, but it is actually eight years, and that is a lot. I have been working out harder than ever, to make sure I am as fit as possible.
“I have only competed in the Indy 500 once in 1996, but you can always see that this race is the best," he continued. "I feel this is the best chance for me to come back strong. Everybody in the team knows that it will take some time for me to re-adapt to this type of cars and racing."
Jourdain will be teaming up with RLL's regular driver Takuma Sato for the Indy 500, and took encouragement from the excellent form that the Japanese former F1 competitor had displayed at Long Beach before getting spun out by Ryan Hunter-Reay in the final laps.
"With the showings Takuma had in the beginning of the season and the team's history at the Indy 500, I know we can have a strong month of May," agreed Jourdain. "My best years professionally came with Bobby Rahal."
The confirmation that Jourdain will take RLL's second Indy 500 seat means that 2011 GP2 Series runner-up Luca Filippi will have to wait even longer for his IZOD IndyCar Series début.
It's understood that there have been problems with the hoped-for sponsorship backing for Filippi. While clearly disappointed to miss out on participating in one of the biggest motor races in the world, Filippi might benefit from the delay if it means his eventual début in IndyCar comes at a more familiar street or road course environment.
Rahal said that the team is continuing to work at bringing Filippi into the team at some point: "Whether that' going to be in time for Indy, I can't tell you," he added.
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