Andretti Green ready to groom Mutoh
Five years ago IndyCar Series powerhouse Andretti Green Racing had a hole to fill in its driver lineup. With the impending retirement of team co-owner Michael Andretti, the team turned to a young development driver from Panther Racing by the name of Dan Wheldon.
Wheldon, who had two IndyCar Series starts under his belt in 2002, went on to capture Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors for AGR in 2003 before winning the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in 2005.
Five years later, AGR faced a similar situation with the loss of Indianapolis 500 winner and series champion Dario Franchitti. Once again, they've turned to a young development driver from Panther Racing to fill the void.
Twenty-five-year-old Hideki Mutoh, who won the Lucas Oil Rookie of the Year award in the Indy Pro Series in 2007, will take over the No. 27 machine for AGR.
Mutoh won two Indy Pro Series races and recorded 10 top-five finishes before capping off his first season in the United States with an eighth-place finish in the IndyCar Series season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We believed as a company in the Indy Pro Series since we got involved two years ago," AGR co-owner Kim Green said. "Those race cars are difficult to drive, and a driver that can run up front with those race cars and win can make it to the next step, which is the IndyCar Series. Then it's all about the opportunity.
"Although Hideki did not win the championship last year, he did very well his first year of racing on ovals in a very tough and competitive series. I think that validates him moving up to the IndyCar Series.
"In the (season finale), he was showing he could mix it up with the best side by side, working the traffic and still being sensible in the race car. We're just delighted to have the opportunity to bring him on board and hopefully take him to that next level, which is the winner's circle.
"He starts in our training program right away. He'll be spending a lot of time at the race shop, which is great for him from a communication standpoint. We'll then be trying to get into an in-depth rookie test schedule before the season."