Bobby Rahal was a pretty good race car driver and he's been a pretty good team owner as well. However, his latest move in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 has me scratching my head a bit. It will be interesting to see if he turns out to be shrewd or stupid.|
Earlier this year, the team had announced that Luca Filippi, a veteran GP2 driver from Italy, would join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the Indy 500. That was the first time I scratched my head because Filippi has never raced ovals, I don't believe he has ever run 500 miles, and certainly never at the speeds experienced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
If that announcement wasn't curious enough, last week the team announced that Michel Jourdain Jr. (not Filippi) would be the second driver at this year's Indy 500, joining Takuma Sato.
Jourdain, son of the godfather of Mexican racing Michel Jourdain Sr., started racing in the Mexican Formula Junior Series at age 12, then in Mexican Formula K and Formula 2. When he took the grid at Long Beach at age 19, he was the youngest driver ever to start a Champ Car race.
Jourdain raced full-time in CART/Champ Car from 1996 to 2004. In 2003, as part of Rahal's team, he finished 12th in points with one pole, wins at Montreal and Milwaukee, and nine podium finishes.
From there he went on to the NASCAR Busch Series, where he had just one Top 10 finish and ran two races in the Truck Series. In 2007, he ran the FIA World Touring Car Championship, where he was 18th in points. In 2007-08, he ran the A1 GP Series for A1 Team Mexico.
Since leaving NASCAR, he was been running mostly rally and sports car events.
But here's my point – the last (and only) time he ran the Indianapolis 500 was in 1996 when he qualified eighth and finished 13th. The cars, speeds and track have changed quite a bit in 16 years. It's been eight years since he did any real open-wheel racing.
Yet I know they don't let just anyone run at Indy. As in most cases, there is more to the story.
As of this writing, Indy Car was still hustling to try and fill the 34-car field for the 500. Only 30 of the 34 rides had confirmed drivers and then Newman / Haas withdrew this week, leaving a 33-car field. Ed Carpenter Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports are still looking for drivers.
Then Bryan Herta Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing were released by Lotus, which could not supply them with engines. So they are still looking for engine contracts for Indianapolis.
The bigger storyline here is that Jourdain apparently brings with him sponsorship by Office Depot Mexico and some other smaller sponsors.
Jourdain will have to go through rookie orientation, but, because of the spectacle that is the Indy 500, he will have more than the average amount of time to prepare – his first practice laps will come May 10.
"My best years professionally came with Bobby Rahal," Jourdain said this week in a press release. "I have been working out harder than ever to make sure I am as fit as possible. I know it is a huge challenge, to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after so long and with this type of car, but I hope that I will feel at home in a few days."
Now you can see why I'm scratching my head. But if he can keep his nose clean and wheels down for a majority of the race, his participation could be huge for the race, huge for TV, huge for sponsors and huge for Indy Car. What better way to attract more Mexicans and Hispanics to racing than to put a Mexican driver in the race?
Like I said – if they can pull it off, it could be genius.
Rahal claims he has not given up on Filippi, whom he had committed to earlier in the season. But let's face facts here – it looks like he ended up with a Mexican sponsor who wanted a Mexican driver, not an Italian, so he had to change plans in midstream.
Rahal is still hoping to put together a deal for a third car for Filippi at Indy and, if not by then, certainly sometime soon after.
"For me, the biggest thing is to get Luca in with the team for whichever race and then work toward the future. We anticipate and hope that Luca will be part of the team for quite some time," Rahal said.
In the meantime, someone might want to tell Filippi that there are still three seats waiting to be filled with other teams. The rest of us will be watching to see if Bobby comes out a winner or a loser with this move.
If the weather gods and racing gods can agree, Davenport Speedway is set to have its first points race of the season Friday night. Pit gate opens at 4:30 p.m. and grandstand gate opens at 5 p.m. Hot laps start at 6:30 p.m. with racing at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for teens and seniors, $5 for kids age 7-12 and children 6 and under are free.
For more on the season schedule, visit drttrak.com .
This column is compiled by Roger Ruthhart and appears each Thursday in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Please send items of interest to email@example.com . Racing results should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sherrard, IL Details
|(More Print Ads)|