In recent years, former F1 drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve and Kimi Raikkonen have looked to NASCAR to provide that challenge. But that role used to be filled by Indy, back in the day when champions like Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi would take to the Brickyard to show what they're made of. Now reunited and with new chassis and engine suppliers lining up, IndyCar racing is climbing back towards its former glory, and one former F1 driver plans on staking his claim there for the first time next year.
That's when Jean Alesi will head to Indianapolis to contest next year's Indy 500. After having raced in F1, DTM, Le Mans and even the Asia-based Speedcar Series, it'll be a new challenge for Alesi, and a fitting highlight for Lotus in their increased involvement in IndyCar racing. The British outfit for whom Alesi acts as ambassador and test-driver laureate has been upping its participation in the American open-wheel series, but will begin supplying its own 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines for use in the series starting next year. Follow the jump for the official announcement.
Jean Alesi to take on the Indy 500 with Lotus
Scheduled for 27 May 2012, Group Lotus brand ambassador Jean Alesi will make his return to competitive racing flying the flag for Group Lotus at the world's biggest motorsport race – the 96th Indy 500.
Despite his considerable experience, Jean has never before taken on competitive oval racing. Following a 12 year stint in F1 from 1989 to 2001, Alesi moved onto DTM racing and then last year made his most recent competitive race appearance in the Le Mans Series. In January 2011 he joined Group Lotus as a brand ambassador and development consultant on the F1 customer race car, the T125. Although never straying far from the race track, the Indy 500 and oval racing represent completely new challenges for Jean.
Commenting on the announcement Jean Alesi said: "I'm thrilled that Lotus has given me the opportunity to compete in such a world famous race. It's going to be a very special experience for me but I also know that I have a lot of hard work ahead. I'm very focused on the task I'm facing – I'm taking my training very seriously, I have some amazing support on this front from a 'comeback' expert and of course I will be testing extensively. I'm really excited about the race."
Jean's development role with Group Lotus will stand him in good stead as he prepares for his new challenge as he will be competing in a Lotus powered by the new Lotus IndyCar engine. Development of the 2.2l twin turbo V6 is going to schedule with the first engine fire up set for mid October and track testing planned December.
Group Lotus Director of Corporate Operations Gino Rosato said: "IndyCar racing represents a really important element of our overall motorsport program. The Indy 500 is the highlight of the race calendar, the atmosphere is always incredible and having Jean racing for us there will make it extra special."