Italian Luca Filippi is joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) for the meat of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, beginning with the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 this May.
The 26-year-old veteran of GP2 who finished second in the series last year behind Romain Grosjean teams with former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato in the No. 30 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry--both drove Honda F1 cars in the past.
"It's a great feeling to be part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing," Filippi said. "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, from the northwestern Italian town of Savigliano, spent six seasons in GP2, the European equivalent of America's Firestone Indy Lights series; he finished second to 2011 champion Grosjean with three victories. He served as a test driver for Honda in Formula One from 2007 through to December 2008 when the manufacturer withdrew from that arena in motorsports.
Rahal confided he "watched Luca's progress with interest, having followed GP2 the last several years. 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 he would represent our team in a first class manner. We are very excited to begin and long and successful relationship with him."
Filippi began racing at age 8, progressing through the karting ranks until he won a driver search contest in 2002 that landed him a season in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series. He's competed in Formula Renault (2003 and 2004, finishing third the second year), won the Italian Formula 3000 title in 2005 and was invited to test an F1 car for Minardi that winter. He's looking forward to reuniting with Honda, he said.
"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. 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." Filippi's familiarity with new teammate Sato is another advantage: "We respect each other and we both think that working together can help us and the team achieve our goals."
Filippi also has direct experience with Dallara cars; it's the marque he raced with in GP2. "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 a seat, I felt really comfortable; everything felt really familiar to me. The IndyCar Series is really popular in Italy and my becoming an Indy car driver is a dream come true," he said.
Before he makes his first Indianapolis 500 start, Filippi will test - at a location not yet determined - prior to Rookie Orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Other program details will be announced at a later date. RLL is returning to full-time Indy car competition for the first time since 2008 when then-driver Ryan Hunter-Reay finished seventh in series standings, the 11th straight time an RLL driver finished in the top-10 in driver points.