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Alesi secures unlikely Indy 500 seat

Former F1 driver Jean Alesi has finally secured a team to back his début in this month's Indianapolis 500 race - and it's not one anyone was expecting.
With all the rumours, twists and turns in the story of Jean Alesi's hoped-for Indianapolis 500 début later this month, the story has nonetheless managed to still take everyone by surprise with a last minute twist.

Lotus Motorsports Group confirmed on Tuesday that it had signed a deal to put Alesi into the cockpit of a Lotus-engined entry with Firestone Indy Lights team Fan Force United for the 96th running of the event.

"We've been talking about this race for a long time, and trying to find the right team to go with," said 47-year-old Alesi, a veteran of 13 seasons of F1 competition. "I'm very happy to be joining Fan Force United. Lotus believes it's the right place for me to be, and I trust the team completely and am sure we will do a super job."

"To date, Jean has never driven an IndyCar and never raced on an oval," said Lotus in a press release. "However, he has spent many hours on Dallara's state-of-the-art simulator, where he's been honing his technique, getting a handle on differing IndyCar setups, and driving in a variety of conditions.

"It's going to be very interesting to see how far natural skill can get him," added the statement.

After the withdrawal of Newman/Haas Racing from the Indy 500, which had been set to support the French-Sicilian former F1 driver's first oval appearance in the "greatest spectacle in motor racing" on May 27, the prospects of Lotus' brand ambassador making it onto the grid for the race appeared to be rapidly fading.

Lotus would not disclose the financial terms of the latest arrangement, but confirmed that Swiss watchmaker FP Journe - Alesi's personal sponsors - were part of the deal. However, even with a rumoured funding package totalling in the region of between half and three-quarters of a million dollars, the driver found it impossible to open doors at the last of Lotus' regular IZOD IndyCar Series teams HVM Racing.

"It was so late and it didn't feel comfortable and I didn't have enough manpower," said HVM team owner Keith Wiggins. "I didn't want to detract from Simona's effort," he added, referring to the team's regular driver Simona de Silvestro.

With the acrimonious collapse of Lotus' engine supply contract with Dragon Racing, Alesi's chances of entering this year's race seemed over until the emergence at the weekend of a last-minute hook-up with the Firestone Indy Lights team.

Fan Force United team owner Tyce Carlson is himself a former Indy Racing League driver with 30 starts in the series, including two Indy 500 appearances. His team already has two cars entered for the Freedom 100 support race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month, with Emerson Newton-John (nephew of actress/singer Olivia Newton-John) joining series regular Armaan Ebrahim for the event.

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The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: Larry Seidman for IndyCar Media]
The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29: Alex Tagliani (bottom), Scott Dixon (middle) and Oriol Servia (top) form the front row. [Picture credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
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May 09, 2012 1:04 AM
Last Edited 1903 days ago

I would have hoped Jean would have come to his senses and called this Indy thing off by now. This has disaster written all over it. It was bad enough he was trying to run with an experienced team but to do it was an Indy Lights team with a Lotus engine? He doesn't have a chance in hell of winning so why he going out there risking life and limb? Indy is the last place to be messing about because you can get injured REALLY bad REALLY quickly. He's old, has zero oval experience, running with an inexperienced team, crap engine in the car, and this isn't like the old days when the track was open for practice the whole month of May. I don't see any good coming of this. I'm with Coop - he'll be lucky and doing himself a favor if he fails to qualify.

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