|Luca Filippi likely to land in 2nd Rahal seat. If not Sarah Fisher's team will likely get Rahal's 2nd engine deal with Honda|
Luca Filippi's planned IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis 500 is in serious doubt as the season's showpiece event draws closer. The 2011 GP2 runner-up originally signed a deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for this year, which was meant to start with the Indy 500. However, reports surfaced earlier this month that former Champ Car racer Michel Jourdain Jr. could land the seat, and the team yesterday confirmed a one-off deal for the Mexican.
"We are still working on the Indy 500, but it's not going to be easy," said Filippi. "But the goal is to make sure that once I jump in a car it is until the end of the season, so I have a proper program, a proper chance, and not just a one-off.
"I want to race in IndyCar as soon as possible, and the Indy 500 is a dream. I want to do it one day, but it doesn't need to be now."
"From one point of view it would be nice to do Indy this year because as a rookie it will be tough," he said. "So if you do it now then next year you go back with some more knowledge. But on the other hand, maybe I can put myself in a better position if I start on a road course and I can get closer to the front. Once I have a chance I will jump in a car, wherever it is. But it is not in my hands."
03/06/12 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' with today's announcement.
02/23/12 26-year-old Filippi recently completed his sixth and final season GP2 earning three wins for Scuderia Coloni, and who spent Monday and Tuesday as a guest of Rahal Letterman Racing at Barber Motorsports Park, says that although his chances to make it in F1 are slim, he doesn’t view the IndyCar Series as a second-tier scenario to fall back on. With his career at somewhat of a crossroads, a chance encounter with IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard last year helped open the door for Filippi to explore his options outside of F1. He said the following to Speed.com:
“Randy Bernard was in Monza for the Formula One race—it was the GP2 season finale," he told SPEED.com. “In that race, I won the race, [set] fastest lap and finished second in the series; it was a great weekend and he wanted to chat with me. He said he wanted me to come to Las Vegas to see him and meet people and maybe I could find an opportunity. He said he liked my style, he liked my racing, and luckily it was a good situation. I’d won at Spa and at Germany just before Monza, so everything was good for my momentum when we spoke together."
“I love what I have seen," he said. “I know Las Vegas was a very bad weekend, but in the time before the race, it was very interesting to me and I met a lot of people. I found the atmosphere real relaxed and very welcoming to me. Since then, I really wanted badly to come race over here."
“I grew up with Alex Zanardi winning races with Ganassi, and that’s when I first started thinking of Indy car racing," he said. “In Italy, we of course have Ferrari (in F1), but it has been a long time since we see Italians winning races. So, honestly speaking, I’ve always had Indy cars as a priority. I had an opportunity to become a Formula One test driver for Honda, and took it, but since then, I’ve always found that to get into a Formula One program, it’s so difficult. Now, it is very much about how much money you are bringing to race there."
“I was taken by Honda when I was quite young, and did Formula One test driving for them, which was good," he said. “They shaped my career, but since they withdraw from Formula One, making it [to F1] has been very hard. It became very tough for me. I had a long-term contract with Honda who believed in me and put a lot of effort into my career. It was a great time.
“Since then, I had no contract, but 2011 was great for me. It was the best season of my career. I have to take a chance now to build my career, and I really believe IndyCar is the right step and exactly what I want. I’m very glad now I’m in a position to build a career here."
“I have a little bit of experience with the Honda F1 team, but I built my career in GP2," he said. “It’s nothing like Formula One. GP2 is a very challenging category where the driver and engineer make the most difference. It’s a spec car, spec tire, spec engine, so it’s really depending on the work the driver and engineer make together. I think it’s a great series that really proves if a driver is complete, so I was really surprised and happy when I saw that IndyCar is the same way.
“OK, this year you have different engine manufacturers, but the rest of the new Dallara car is similar to (the Dallara-built) GP2 car, which I believe is good for me. A driver can have a big input on setups and can make a difference with his team, and I love that. As a racing driver, as an outlet, that’s what you want—to prove yourself every time you drive."
“What I love, speaking with some IndyCar drivers, is how happy they are to be here," he said. “Justin Wilson tells me he loves the atmosphere, the way the series grows. Mike Conway–he was my teammate in GP2–and he said he was very happy with the decision [to move to IndyCar] and is doing quite well.
“And technically, I’m very familiar with this car. I’ve driven Dallara cars for many years, and I can see a lot of areas—parts of the car—that is similar to what I’m used to. The calipers are the same I’ve always had…the carbon brakes… When I [sat] in the car, it was very familiar to me. Everything sounds like it would be very comfortable to race in IndyCar."
“I’m sure it’s not easy to learn the car and the circuits right away," he said. “I know it’s going to be difficult and the drivers are incredibly good, but everyone really has the opportunity to be at the same level of everybody else if they have the skills. I have a chance to learn and to prove I can be competitive here."
So where does that leave Filippi for 2012?
“I’m here," he said. “I’m in the States for a while now. I wanted to see the country, to feel the atmosphere and travel around with my girlfriend. I really want to come here and see if I can stay longer, obviously. We haven’t signed anything with Bobby Rahal, but I honestly see there is an intention from both sides to make it happen. I’ve found the team to be very competitive, very experienced. I think that we’ve already built a nice relationship. Bobby has faith in me, and we all want to make this happen, but it’s not easy."
“I’m not a wealthy guy, as I’ve seen it has been written," he said. “I’m not. I’m in this position because I had a great season last year, and it’s true that Honda knows my skills. I believe that I did a good job for them and that they respect me. But nothing is confirmed. It was good to come to Barber, and now let’s see where we can take this.
“I also know Takuma. Actually, when he was at [the Honda-powered Super Aguri F1 team] we tested together, and he is an excellent driver. Bobby is very honorable and very dedicated to the success of his team, so we will continue to work on this together."
“This is the right time to make the step into the series," he said. “With the new car, all the drivers and teams will need time to learn the car, so it’s the right time to come here now because everything is more equal. Randy Bernard said he believed it was important to have the best drivers from throughout the world in IndyCar, and I was very happy about that.
"He gave me a good impression of the mentality of his series—his commitment to the young drivers—which I don’t believe we have any longer in F1."
02/13/12 Well it seems our sources may have been wrong on this one, unless Howard lands the 3rd seat at Rahal. Speed.com reports that Rahal is indeed close on announcing a 2nd driver (Italian GP2 runner-up driver Luca Filippi) alongside Sato, and possibly even a third car. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has moved its IndyCar operation into the former de Ferran Racing facilities just outside of Indianapolis.
Now the team is closing in on filling its second seat and could also expand to three cars if Bobby Rahal gets signatures on all of the deals he has in the works.
“We’re at 11:59 on a lot of things, you could say, and just need that extra minute for everything to come together and roll over," Rahal told SPEED.com on Monday. “It’s the usual deal. We’re very close on the second car, have contracts going back and forth and just when you think you have it all done, there’s a line that needs to be adjusted or whatever and the contracts make another round for review. It’s ordinary stuff, but I think we’ll be in good shape shortly, and we also have a third car in play that’s also close."
Rahal announced he’d secured a pair of Honda contracts last November, confirmed Sato 10 days ago and appears to be close to snagging one of Europe’s hottest young drivers to push the 35-year-old Japanese driver.
The second RLL seat has been linked to 2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi since late last year, with multiple sources confirming he’s in the frame for a drive with the 2004 Indy 500-winning team.
A mid-season switch from Super Nova to Scuderia Coloni sparked the Italian’s run to second-place in the GP2 championship, but after six years in Formula One’s feeder series, and with nothing but F1 reserve driver roles left for the offering, moving Stateside to continue his career could be the most logical step for Filippi.
|Michel Jourdain drove for Rahal's team in CART/Champ Car|
Mexico’s Michel Jourdain, who drove for Rahal in Champ Car in 2002 and 2003, has also been heavily associated with the team in a third RLL entry to make his return to open-wheel after a seven-year layoff.
Rumors have had Jourdain joining the team starting at the Indianapolis 500, but it’s possible the 35-year-old, who met with a number of teams at the Las Vegas IndyCar season finale, could make his debut earlier if sponsorship can be secured.
“There are some who want to get involved in the series these days, and the might not all have the money to do it full-time right now, so we’re looking at a few different scenarios for the third car right now that could support some drivers who want to try IndyCar," said Rahal. “I can’t mention drivers, but the negotiations are going Mach 2 there."
With the possibility of Filippi joining the IndyCar Series, F1 iron man Rubens Barrichello scheduling a second test with KV Racing at Infineon Raceway later this month and talk of another F1 driver from 2011 on the shopping list of an IndyCar team, the series could have its most competitive season to date. Speed.com
Months ago AR1.com sources said that Jay Howard had the inside line with Rahal's team. Will it come true? Stay tuned. Some key quotes from Bobby Rahal on today's IndyCar media conference indicate Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is close to announcing a 2nd car and driver.
“We're very close on that," Rahal said. “All of our efforts are being split right now between getting Taku's car ready for the Barber test. This last week we did not go to the Sebring test because we felt it was more important for us to understand the car that we have a little bit better, so we spent several days on the seven-post rig up in Canada, which we've used quite extensively in the past in IndyCar Series and ALMS cars. We came away with a lot of good information from that.
“Quite frankly, there's plenty of time. You're limited to 1,000 miles per driver preseason anyway. So by doing Barber, Sebring and Sebring again, we'll be able to accomplish 1,000 miles.
If you read our 2012 IndyCar Silly Season page link above you will know that we have been rumoring Jay Howard for that 2nd Rahal seat for months now. We'll see if our sources are correct.
01/15/12 Still hearing that Jay Howard will likely lineup alongside Takuma Sato in the Honda powered Rahal team.
11/06/11 Sorry, we had our English drivers mixed up, it is Jay Howard, not Alex Lloyd that is signing with Rahal.
11/06/11 According to AR1.com sources, Alex Lloyd will soon be signed as the first driver for Rahal Letterman Racing.
We also hear that Service Central, who also sponsors Bobby Rahal's son Graham in the 2nd Ganassi team, will be the primary sponsor.
We have updated our 2012 IndyCar Silly Season page accordingly and await the official announcement.