[Source: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing press release]
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced today that they have signed 2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi to drive their No. 30 Honda-Dallara-Firestone entry in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the remainder of the 2012 season beginning with the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Filippi will team with Takuma Sato, whom he met while the two were testing Honda-powered Formula One cars.
“It’s a great feeling to be part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” said Luca Filippi. “Being a racing driver and a big motorsport fan too, it’s amazing to have such a legend as Bobby Rahal as team owner. I’m sure he will help me a lot with my Indy car experience and help me learn all the different dynamics that I will find in my very first American open wheel racing season quickly.”
Filippi, a 26-year-old from the northwestern town of Savigliano, Italy, spent the previous six seasons in the GP2 series which is the European equivalent of the Firestone Indy Lights series and was runner-up to champion Romain Grosjean with three wins. Filippi was also a test driver for Honda in Formula One from 2007 until December 2008 when the manufacturer withdrew from the sport.
“Having followed GP2 the last several years, I have watched Luca’s progress with interest,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “Despite not always having the best equipment, it was clear he had the ability to not only run competitively but to also win races. Having gotten to know him over the last eight months, he has also shown that in addition to being able to win, he would represent Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in a first class manner. We are very excited to begin a long and successful relationship with him.”
“The IndyCar Series is really popular in Italy and my becoming an Indy car racing driver is a dream come true,” added Filippi. “After finishing second in the GP2 series last year in a Dallara car, I am looking forward to see how this car is to drive. I know it will be different but when I sat in the cockpit to make the seat I felt really comfortable; everything felt really familiar to me. This year everything is going to change for everybody in the series because of the new car and I think it is the best moment for a rookie to enter the championship.”
Filippi began racing karts in Italy as an eight-year-old and progressed through the ranks until he won a driver-search contest in 2002 that landed him a season in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series. From there he competed in the Formula Renault Championship in 2003 and 2004, with a third place overall finish in 2004. He then won the Italian Formula 3000 series title in 2005 which resulted in being invited to test a Formula One car for the first time with Minardi that winter. To gain valuable racing experience, he competed in the GT2 series from 2006-2011 and was also a Honda test driver for their F1 program beginning in 2007. After winning poles and races in Europe, Filippi is looking forward to moving to the top-level of open wheel racing in North America and reuniting with Honda.
“Racing for a Honda-powered team is fantastic because I feel like I am restarting from where we ended a few years ago when I was the Honda F1 test driver until the end of the Honda F1 project,” said Filippi. “I’m happy we will work together again and now we both have a new challenge, new motivation and I just can’t wait to be at the wheel. I know Takuma from those days. We respect each other and we both think that working together can help us and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing achieve our goals.”
Prior to making his IndyCar Series debut at the Indianapolis 500, it is expected that Filippi will test at a yet-to-be-determined location prior to Rookie Orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Other program details will be announced at a later date.
RLL returns to full-time IZOD IndyCar Series competition in 2012 for the first time since 2008. That season saw Ryan Hunter-Reay finish seventh in the final series standings, marking the 11th consecutive year that a RLL driver finished the year in the top-10 in driver points. The winners of the 1992 IndyCar championship as well as the 2004 Indianapolis 500, RLL Indy cars have finished in the top 10 in more than half of its 587 career series starts.