Michel Jourdain Jr at Long Beach - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
In March, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) announced Italian Luca Filippi would join the IZOD IndyCar Series team in Indy and stay for the balance of the season. Apparently, not so fast!
Tuesday RLL Racing revealed Michel Jourdain Jr's return to the team with whom he won two Indy car races in Montreal and at The Milwaukee Mile in 2003. The 35-year-old Mexican driver returns to RLL Racing for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 in the Office Depot Mexico-sponsored No. 30 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry, with associate sponsorship from Roshfras, Grupo Indi and Grpo Multi.
"I am extremely happy about this new opportunity," said Jourdain Jr., who has stood in the Team RLL pits since the start of the 2012 campaign - as did Filippi at the St Petersburg, FL season opener. "My best years professionally came with Bobby Rahal. 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," he remarked. "For me, this is not only a professional project, it is also personal and having Office Depot Mexico, their suppliers and Roshfrans supporting me like they did 10 years ago means a lot to me. That shows that we did a good job for them."
Office Depot Mexico includes six additional countries in Central America and Colombia in South America, beyond Mexico within its scope. By the end of April the company will operate 250 locations and boasts annual sales around $1 billion USD. "We are very excited about having Michel represent us in the most important race in the world," Arturo Hernandez Martinez, subdirector de mercadotecnia, Office Depot de Mexico said.
This race marks Jourdain Jr's return to open wheel competition after leaving the Champ Car World Series after the 2004 season. The Mexican became the youngest driver to start a Champ Car race when he drove in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach at 19 years, six months and 12 days old. He made 152 CART and Champ Car starts from 1996-2004; Jourdain Jr has three Indy Racing League starts, including the 1996 Indy 500 where he qualified eighth and finished 13th.
After a successful 2003 season with Team Rahal, Jourdain Jr moved to RuSPORT for 2004 when Rahal decided to focus on Indy Racing League competition. With the support of Ford Motor Co., he joined NASCAR's Nationwide Series from 2005-2008 and also competed in the Camping World Truck Series in 2006. Since that time, Jourdain Jr has competed in various rally and sports car series.
"I am pleased to have Michel back with the team," said Bobby Rahal, co-owner. "When we were last together we had a lot of success and I don't see any reason why we can't continue that. It is also good to represent Office Depot again and their many associate sponsors that are making this happen. We are really pleased for Michel and happy to be a part of this."
While Jourdain Jr has only competed in the Indy 500 once, "You can always see that this race is the best. Bobby and I spoke in Las Vegas (last October) but also I came to the new shop in Indy the first days of January. I saw in Bobby a big commitment to get back to the top in Indy car racing," he said.
"With the hiring of Tom Anderson (team manager) and the very strong engineering group, I feel this is the best chance for me to come back strong," Jourdain Jr continued. "Everybody in the team knows that it will take some time for me to re-adapt to this type of cars and racing, but with the showings Takuma (Sato) had in the beginning of the season and the team's history at the Indy 500, I know we can have a strong month of May."
In the first three IZOD IndyCar Series races of the 2012 year, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has, with Takuma Sato at the wheel of the No. 15 Dallara/Honda/Firestone race car led three times for a total of 27 laps. Sato has a best finish of eighth in Long Beach. The team won the 1992 IndyCar championship and the 2004 Indianapolis 500 (with Buddy Rice from pole position). RLL Indy cars have finished in the top 10 in more than half of the team's 590 career series starts.
Jourdain Jr has his first laps in the DW12 Dallara with Honda 2.2-liter turbocharged V-6 power on Thursday, May 10 during Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Rookie Orientation Program. While he is a veteran of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the team is allowed to participate in a "refresher" course, common for drivers that have been out of Indy cars for a while. Opening Day for the 96th Indianapolis 500 i Saturday, May 12.