Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Dragon Racing have confirmed that they are teaming up to run former GP2 contender and current F1 reserve/test driver Ho-Pin Tung in the #8 car in practice and qualifying for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

If Tung succeeds in making the 33-car starting grid, he will be the first Chinese driver to start the world's most famous motor race.

"It's a great honour to be the first Chinese driver ever to take part in this special race, especially being the 100th edition," said Tung, adding that he was "very excited" about the month ahead.

Currently 42 cars are formally entered into the Indianapolis 500, so nine will not qualify to start the race on May 29. Tung conceded that it wasn't going to be an easy introduction to US open wheel racing.

"I realize it will be tough since it will be my IndyCar debut, but Sam Schmidt Motorsports has shown great results in the last few races at the Indy 500," he said. "And Jay Penske and the Dragon Racing team has proven they can deliver a highly competitive race car, so I am confident to have a good chance to qualify for the race."

Tung took part in the post-2010 season testing session at Sebring, which meant he made history there as the first Chinese licensed driver to take the wheel of an IZOD IndyCar Series car. The test was with the FAZZT racing team, which was subsequently bought out by Sam Schmidt Motorsports as they decided to move from their focus on Firestone Indy Lights up to the senior series, as SSM celebrate ten years of fielding cars in the Indy 500 with drivers including Ryan Briscoe, Tomas Scheckter, Raphael Matos and Davey Hamilton.

28-year-old Tung - who was actually born in the Netherlands - is currently a reserve driver with the Lotus Renault GP team in F1. He won the Asian Formula BMW championship in 2003 and the German Formula 3 championship in 2006 and was China's driver for five race weekends in both the 2006/7 and 2008/9 seasons of the now-defunct A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, where his best result was third in the Australian feature race in 2007.

He first competed in GP2 in 2007 (with BCN Competici?n) and then in both GP2 and GP2 Asia with Trident Racing in 2008. After spending 2009 in Superleague Formula, he returned to GP2 with DAMS in 2010 as part of the testing deal with Lotus Renault GP. It proved to be a frustrating season, ending in a minor fracture of one of his lumbar vertebrae as a result of a first-lap collision with Jules Bianchi in the Hungary feature race. He was replaced by Romain Grosjean while he recovered, and eventually made a one-off return appearance for the last weekend of the season at Abu Dhabi with Racing Engineering, subbing for Christian Vietoris who was suffering from appendicitis.

"We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to compete at Indy with Ho-Pin," said Sam Schmidt at the announcement. "He did a fantastic job at the Sebring test and I'm confident we'll be able to get him up to speed.

"To be the first team involved with a Chinese driver is huge. Our future success lies in our ability to generate commercial interest in our program, and what better way than to have a direct connection to the world's largest population?"

The car will run under the banner of Schmidt Dragon Racing, but Tung's car will actually be prepared and staffed by Dragon Racing as Jay Penske continues to revive the team that came close to folding for good over the winter. Dragon is fielding Paul Tracy in five IndyCar events this season, but Tracy had already signed to compete at Indianapolis with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, leaving the team looking for a one-off driver for the Indy 500.

"I am thrilled to be part of the Indianapolis 500," said Penske. "I have always had deep respect for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and couldn't be happier in partnering with Sam. We look forward to an electrifying month as we work to get Ho-Pin qualified for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Schmidt was also generous with his praise of Penske in return. "Having the ability to partner with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing ensures a quality effort both on and off the track. Hopefully, the #8 will bring us tremendous good fortune."

Practice for the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 starts on May 14, with pole qualifying on May 21 and Bump Day on May 22. The race race will begin at noon local time on May 29.



Loading Comments...