Patr¢n Highcroft Racing's Scott Sharp will return to the Indianapolis 500 this year aboard a Patr¢n-sponsored entry run by Panther Racing.
The winner of the most of recent round of the American Le Mans Series with David Brabham at St Petersburg, Sharp will combine his ALMS and Indy duties during the month of May - aiming to qualify during the first weekend, race for Patr¢n Highcroft Racing in Salt Lake City at Miller Motorsports Park the following week, then contest the 500 on the Memorial Day weekend.
Q: HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO RETURN TO THE INDY 500 WITH PANTHER RACING?
SS: "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 are easily my favorite track and favorite race. It is the one race you think about every day of the year.
"It is just an incredible experience every time you are involved with it. For me every lap around that track is pretty sacred.
"Indy is a track that I have always been totally comfortable on and at some time during the month I've always gone really well there - whether it be practice, qualifying or part of the race itself.
"I've never been able to put it all together to get the race finish I am after but hopefully this new deal with Panther will give me the best chance to do that."
Q: FOR A DRIVER FROM A ROAD RACING BACKGROUND, WHAT MAKES THE INDY 500 SO SPECIAL?
SS: "The first time I ever drove at Indy I remember coming out of the pit lane in turn two and looking at the back straight which looked like it would never end.
"You are dealing with sustained high speeds at Indy for such a long period of time - no other race in the world is like this.
"To be 225-235mph constantly for three hours plus is incredibly exhilarating. All the aura, the build up and the excitement - it really is second to none.
"The race itself is such a chess game and the draft plays a bigger role there than any other race.
"There are 33 very evenly matched cars, pit stops are critical - everything that goes into that race is really exciting."
Q: HAVING COMPETED WITH PATRÓN HIGHCROFT RACING IN THE AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES FOR THE PAST TWO SEASONS, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WILL FIND THE TRANSITION BACK INTO INDYCARS?
SS: "I've done a lot of laps at Indy and run a lot of laps in the Dallara so hopefully after a year and a half out of those cars it will be a bit like getting back on an old bike and it will all come back to me pretty quickly.
"Being away for a while and getting the chance to work with such a high technology car like the Acura ARX-02a I think has really fine-tuned my development skills as a driver.
"It will be very interesting to get back into the Indy car and see if I subconsciously start to approach it a little bit differently as a driver.
"I think every time you step aboard a race car you learn something. I've learned quite a lot in the past year and a half. A lot of that pertains to road courses, but I am sure it has sharpened my game quite a bit.
"I'm sure I will be able to apply what I have learned - particularly in regards to my focus and approach to the Indy car.
Q: HOW DIFFERENT WILL DRIVING IN THE INDY 500 BE FROM COMPETING IN AN AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES ENDURANCE RACE?
SS: "The two types of races are really at different ends of the spectrum. The 500 has huge speed, sustained drafting, the way you set somebody up to pass is quite different from other races.
"I think at Indy you are also a little more limited with the car. On a road course in the American Le Mans Series you can do certain things in the car to overcome a slight handling deficiency.
"You can approach a corner a little bit differently, brake or turn differently.
"At Indy you are pretty limited in that regard.
"Most of the time you are running close to flat out, you can't unsettle the car with the steering at all and it is more of an exact science in getting the handling package just right."
Q: HOW SUPPORTIVE HAS PATRÓN HIGHCROFT RACING AND YOUR TEAM OWNER DUNCAN DAYTON BEEN IN YOUR INDY AMBITIONS FOR THIS YEAR?
SS: "Duncan has been fantastic. He was part of a lot of these early Indy discussions and I think smartly he has wanted to keep his eye on the ball with the LMP1 championship at the moment.
"We have quite an opportunity over there with Patr¢n and Acura - a new car to develop and a championship to win.
"There are a lot of eggs in that basket over there but Duncan is still keen on experiencing the Indy 500 and we have a few of our guys at Patr¢n Highcroft with a lot of IndyCar experience.
"It will be great to get a couple of our Highcroft guys to come across and assist me at Panther.
"Duncan will be there himself as well. Both Patr¢n and myself have a fantastic relationship with Highcroft and it is great to see everything so open.
"A big thank you goes to all the guys on the Highcroft team as well."
Q: HOW GRATIFYING IS IT TO BE BACK AT INDY WITH PATRÓN SUPPORTING YOUR RETURN TO THE BRICKYARD?
SS: "I really can't thank Patr¢n enough for all their support. They are such an exciting company to be a part of.
"They have had incredible growth, have a brilliant marketing strategy and the way they activate their brand is just outstanding.
"They have come into the American Le Mans Series and together we have really set a new standard.
"We did Indy together in 2007 and I am truly thankful to them for giving me the opportunity to go back and do it again this year with Panther.
"The Indy 500 is one of my huge goals and to have their support is incredibly generous of them."
Q: HOW BIG A CHALLENGE WILL IT BE TO STEP BACK INTO INDYCARS WITH PANTHER AFTER YOUR TIME IN THE ALMS?
SS: "Panther has worked extremely hard and they put a lot of focus on Indy. They had a very fast car in the 500 last year and pulled off a great result.
"They led part of the race and finished second so I know I am with a very strong team.
"For me it's just a case of picking back up in Indy cars where I left off. Until I do it, I am not sure how long that will take. I'm not expecting it will take too long.
"I will be able to get acclimatized on the last days of rookie orientation and that will be great to get some miles in a low pressure situation.
"I'll be able to stay the entire first week of practice and the plan is to try to post a time and be through with qualifying on the first day, if not the first weekend if everything goes smoothly.
"If I get in on the first day that allows us to use the second day to work on race set up.
"The second week of course I will be committed to the fourth round of the American Le Mans Series with Patr¢n Highcroft Racing at Salt Lake City.
"I think having a strong team-mate like Dan Wheldon at Panther will be hugely beneficial. If I have already done some race running and Dan can develop that set-up further when I am on ALMS duty, I am pretty confident I will be able to get back in the car on carb day and be quite happy with it.
Q: IS THERE A BACKUP PLAN SHOULD YOU HAVE TO QUALIFY ON THE SECOND WEEKEND?
SS: "Obviously the goal is to get into the race on day one. Qualifying has certainly gotten pretty exciting in the past couple of years and we'll certainly look at back-up plans if we need to.
"Ryan Briscoe was able to do both the 500 and the ALMS Salt Lake event last year so we know it is certainly doable.
"The weather is always the unknown but even if day one is rained out, the league will try and qualify 22 cars on day two."