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.