Sixteen years between Indianapolis 500 efforts is viewed more as an opportunity than an obstacle to Michel Jourdain Jr., who will join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the 96th running of the race on May 27.
“I am extremely happy about this new opportunity,” said Jourdain, 35, of Mexico City. "In St. Pete and Long Beach when I walked in the paddock and saw all my friends (drivers, owners, team members, media, etc.) I felt like I had been away just for a few months, but it is actually eight years, and that is a lot. 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 cars, but I hope that I will feel at home in a few days.”
The event record between starts is 17 years (1930-47) by Cy Marshall and Roland Free.
“I have only competed in the Indy 500 once in 1996, but you can always see that this race is the best," Jourdain added. "Bobby and I spoke in Las Vegas, 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. With the hiring of Tom Anderson and the very strong engineering group, I feel this is the best chance for me to come back strong. 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.”
Jourdain will be a teammate of Sato, who drives the No. 15 Honda-powered entry full time. The team won the Indianapolis 500 from the pole position in 2004 with driver Buddy Rice.
The No. 30 Honda-powered entry will be sponsored by Office Depot Mexico with associate sponsorship from Roshfrans, Grupo Indi and Grupo Multi.
"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," Jourdain continued. "This shows that we did a good job for them.
Jourdain last competed in Indy car in 2004. He became the youngest driver to start a Champ Car race to date when he drove at Long Beach in 1996 at the age of 19 years, 6 months, 12 days. He made 152 starts in CART and Champ Car from 1996-2004 plus three Indy Racing League starts, including the 1996 Indy 500 where he qualified eighth and finished 13th.
He won races in Montreal and Milwaukee in 2003 with Team Rahal and moved to RuSPORT for 2004 when Team Rahal focused solely on the Indy Racing League that season. With support from Ford Motor Company, he moved to NASCAR’s Nationwide Series from 2005-2008 and also competed in the Camping World Truck Series in 2006. Since then, he competed in various rally and sports car series.
“I am pleased to have Michel back with the team,” team co-owner Bobby Rahal said. “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.”
Although he will be classified as a veteran for the Indianapolis 500, Jourdain will participate in a “refresher” course May 10 in conjunction with the Rookie Orientation Program. Opening Day is May 12.
"The excitement in Mexico has been great from sponsors, media, friends, etc., and with the IndyCar Series, I see motivated people, a lot of drivers wanting to come into it, sponsors, etc., so I really hope I can come back, do more races and hopefully the full 2013 season with RLL,” Jourdain said.