American race driver Townsend Bell will be looking for his third consecutive Indianapolis 500 start with Sam Schmidt Motorsports later this month, after signing a deal to take the wheel of the #99 BraunAbility/Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports car.

That will make Bell team mates for the month with Schmidt's regular driver Simon Pagenaud, who will be making his own d?but on the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Speed and consistency win the Indianapolis 500," said Bell. "Returning to Indy with Sam and his team for the third year in a row will ensure I have both those ingredients again in 2012.

Related Articles

"Townsend is one of those drivers that gets it done at Indy, and I am excited to have him driving the #99," said team owner Sam Schmidt.

Bell competed with SSM in 2010 and 2011, with his most recent outing ending in contact with Ryan Briscoe on lap 157. Bell also competed at Indy twice before: with Vision Racing in 2006 and KV Racing Technology in 2009, where he recorded his best-ever result by finishing in fourth place behind race winner Helio Castroneves and podium finishers Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick.

"To say we have unfinished business together at Indy may be a clich?, but it is true," said Schmidt. "We've started our first two races together with legitimate shots at winning. This year should be no different."

Bell's long-expected and finally-confirmed signing with SSM leaves only one race seat on the provisional entry list without a confirmed driver - a possible second Ed Carpenter Racing seat, with former Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice said to be the favoured candidate to pick up the ride.

But rumours persist that Jean Alesi will still make a bid for the 33-car Indy 500 starting grid, despite the collapse of his earlier deal to enter the race with Newman/Haas Racing. The team said that it had run out of time to put together an operation, but added that it was aiming at a full-time two-car return to IndyCar in 2013.

Reports have been circulating ever since Long Beach that Lotus have put together a package worth between half and three-quarters of a million dollars to field Alesi in the greatest spectacle in motor racing. That would have to be in a Lotus-powered car, which limits the options to either HVM or Dragon.

Dragon already field Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series and are unlikely to be able to stretch to supporting a third car at such short notice. Substituting Alesi in for one of their current drivers is likely to be complicated by existing driver contracts.

Over at HVM Racing, team owner Keith Wiggins had previously ruled his team out of the running for Alesi's services and declared that "There's not enough money to do it" when asked whether he would put together a second car to run alongside his regular driver Simona de Silvestro.

When contacted by the media on Thursday and asked whether the situation regarding Alesi had changed, Wiggins gave a simple "no comment."

It seems Alesi certainly hasn't given up hopes of making it to Indianapolis, and on Monday appeared at a photo opportunity at the California headquarters of motorsports racewear supplier Sparco, picking up his brand new firesuit with Lotus and IndyCar Series logos on it.

In Italy, reports from Italiaracing earlier this week asserted that Alesi was on the verge of signing with HVM.