Jean Alesi has confirmed that his inaugural assault on the Indianapolis 500 will be run by legendary IndyCar team Newman/Haas Racing for the Month of May. The deal, first tipped yesterday by French magazine AUTOhebdo, was confirmed by the Sicilian himself on Thursday.
The 47-year-old ex-Formula 1 racer announced plans last September to contest the 500-mile open-wheel classic on May 27. Alesi, who started 201 grand prix but has never raced on an oval, will drive a Lotus-powered Dallara DW12 for the Illinois-based team owned by Carl Haas. Newman/Haas, which Haas founded along with the late Paul Newman, was also the team that brought F1's Nigel Mansell to Indy in 1993, and has been a dominant force at Indy many times with the likes of Mario and Michael Andretti, although it has never won the 500.
Newman/Haas announced back in December that it wouldn't compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 due to lack of sponsorship, but will run Alesi on a one-off basis at Indianapolis, having assisted Lotus squad Dragon Racing so far this year.
"It's going to be with Newman/Haas and it was signed yesterday," Alesi told AUTOSPORT. "We have a lot of details still to decide, such as when I'll be in the car for the first time, all those kind of things. For me, it's fantastic because I need as much support as I can get, from the team – even from the fans, I will have to ask them how to drive there!
"I am extremely excited about it. I'm not worried, but I feel a big pressure on me. I will try to be as fit as possible and to be in top condition to do a good job."
The deal came about via Alesi's position as an ambassador with the Lotus car manufacturer, which entered the IndyCar Series as an engine supplier this year.
"The whole issue for me competing in this race was because I'm the Lotus ambassador," he said. "I am taking it very seriously, I have massive experience in motorsport, but it's the first time for me in this kind of competition. I need to be low-profile, to fulfil the expectation of the team, and I'm sure I will perform."
Alesi will be required to go through the same rookie orientation process at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as is the case for all new drivers at the Speedway. Intriguingly, Alesi will do this process alongside fellow F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello.
"Actually for me, that will be a good thing," said Alesi. "The process is very big, and I want to start without any kind of worry to be in the top speeds straight away. I want to follow the procedure and get a good feeling at lower speed, to build up to a reasonable speed.
"It's a magic surprise for motorsport to do something like this, especially in my case, because I love so much to drive. To race at Indianapolis will be amazing."
Alesi does not yet know when his first test in the car will be, although he expects to test before practice begins at Indy on May 12. There were no Lotus-powered teams on hand for Wednesday's test of the DW12's new speedway bodywork at Indianapolis, due to a lack of availability of the Judd-built engines.